Posted by John Marr

At this time of year, it doesn’t take much to get into the spirit of the season. Having just finished with Thanksgiving and surviving Black Friday as well as Cyber Monday, it’s virtually impossible to not be aware that that Jolly Old Man in red will soon be here and we have to maintain the highest of deportment, keep the ledger clean, and get our spirits bright. President Amy is an ardent fan of the Christmas traditions of merry making, profuse giving and wanted to share that sentiment with all. Consequently, she offered to forgo a meeting at the Clarion and move on to the Merrill Auditorium to enjoy a performance of the renown Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Eckart Preu, along with the Portland Magic of Christmas Choral Society, directed by Nicolas Dosman. Of course, every visit to the Merrill includes the magnificence of the Kotzschmar Organ, which this day was exquisitely played by impresario James Kennerley.  As if the enjoyment of the PSO and Choir by itself would not be enough, President Amy and her wondrous Elves arranged for a backstage visit following the performance.
As many are aware, our own Russ Burleigh was General Manager of the PSO back in the 60’s, and he added to the background by providing some personal history. Furthermore, the Club has been a dedicated Friend of the Kotzschmar Organ and has had the distinction of getting into the intimate workings of this fabulous force of sound.  While we may have been privileged to be backstage before, the experience following the "Magic of Christmas" was something very special and certainly reason to give resounding thanks. We had about 40 Rotarians, guests and family at the performance and the advantage of the backstage pass and guided tour.  Our gathering was of such size that we had to be divided into two groups.
"The Magic of Christmas" is much more than a medley of Christmas songs and orchestral talent. It’s a consuming atmosphere of supremely special seasonal cheer. When you come through the doors and make your way to your seats, you are serenaded by Organist, James Kennerley, using the Kotzscmar organ to imbue the up tempo that is sure to get all in the spirit of the music to follow. While many of the songs played are familiar, it’s how they're presented that turns them into music that transcends from the common to the surreal. We all love to hear “Joy to The World” and “Deck the Halls.” There is so much more to heighten our sense of the season, such as a moving rendition of Ave Maria soon followed by some Bach and Gabrielli. 

As if the music wasn’t enough, the story behind each piece was explained by Maestro Eckart Preu (in photo at right) to give us an understanding of how the beauty came into existence. When the Choir gives us Handel’s Messiah, the Hallelujah’s were palpable in the hearts of all the people. Of similar inspiration was Richman’s “Hanukkah Festival Overture,” which some may not be as familiar with, but we were all taken by it. We went from the cerebral of the Messiah and Hanukkah Overture and worked into the "Elf," "Home Alone," and of course, "Mister Grinch," with the malefactor himself wandering among the orchestra. When it comes to “Sleigh Ride,” we are all in stride and coursing across the snow ready to get to Santa’s place and to sing our way there with the traditional audience sing along, which put the “Singing Rotary Club” of Portland in perfect pitch and ready to have at the songs.
To say that we experienced a Christmas treat, would be an understatement. We were treated like royalty....thanks to the feast offered by the Portland Symphony Orchestra and Magic of Christmas Choir. The music was the main course to be followed by a fabulous dessert backstage with the crew and performers who make it all happen. To be on stage looking out where we all just sat is a kick, in and of itself, but to see how the performance is put together was truly special. The auditorium is used year-round for a multitude of purposes, requiring that it morph from one program to another. The history and mysteries of the hall were explained to us by Biddeford local, Joe Boucher. Joe pointed out the wandering walls that can be moved to adjust to the size of the performance along with some of the new tech advances, such as the projections. How a lecture hall was turned into a concert hall is a program of its own and a story worth being explored. Joe turned us over to Mister Grinch, who it turns out is another local, Eve Tartaglia, a relative newcomer to the tenured staff of the Merrill and PSO. She may not have the years of some of the others but there’s no shortage of knowledge she is able to offer up. She not only brought us to the private work rooms of the players, but also introduced us to some of the secret pieces, such as the chiclet which looks like a piano but is a percussion instrument that is manufactured in only two places in the world, one in Germany and the other in the U.S.A.
Suffice it to say that this newsletter can only give you a taste of the feast we enjoyed at our last meeting. For now, let me just wish all a joyous season and a new year rich in health and the things that count!