Caroling, Caroling Now We Go

Christmas has the fine-tuned ability to heat one’s chilly heart with only the sounds of the season. Carols can make us jolly, or they may make us sentimental, or they may inspire. No matter the meaning, there’s something about this music which simply brings a smile to one’s face. The radio station 102.7 GNI dedicates more than a month to such spirited songs, so that even running errands holds a bit of excitement. And what else would one play to celebrate Christmas in July? Surely the dog days of summer could use a bit of Christmas cheer.

Thus, it’s only fitting we celebrate December by venturing out to enjoy holiday music from the skills of local talent. This month the Sea Notes Choral Society and the Brunswick Concert Band will offer up hefty servings of fa-la-la’s as they will each perform free concerts multiple nights.

Sea Notes Choral Society. Courtesy photo

Sea Notes Choral Society Holiday Concert
Thurs., Dec. 6th • 7:30 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 7th • 7:30 p.m.
Sun, Dec. 9th • 3 p.m.
Hatch Auditorium, NC Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell • 100 Caswell Beach Rd.
Free, but donations accepted

Founded in May 1974, the Sea Notes Choral Society has since evolved to become an artistic necessity within southeastern NC. The chorus showcases three times each year: in the spring, for the NC Fourth of July Festival, and at Christmas. Their repertoire includes a performance of Handel’s complete “Messiah” with a full professional orchestra—as well as delightful, upbeat pop and Broadway standards, and spiritual sacred and gospel music.

The Sea Notes is a key group to our community: The members have sung at dedications for the Thomas J. Harrelson segment of U.S. Highway 17 (the road’s namesake was a former NC Transportation Secretary and a charter member of the choral society) and the Museum of Coastal Carolina. Perhaps most inspiringly, the group frequently presents patriotic classics at the Fourth of July Festival’s naturalization ceremonies.

“The 115 to 130 performing members of Sea Notes are a dedicated group of people, working hard every Monday evening at rehearsal and on their own between rehearsals,” Dianne Hoffman, librarian and one of six directors for the Sea Notes, details. “They pitch in to do whatever is needed. The board members are devoted to their individual jobs—publicity, patrons, finance, etc. Most members are retired and come from all walks of life. It is great to be a part of this organization.”

Hoffman has experience directing church choirs in NC and VA, including Shallotte’s St. Brendan Catholic Church of which she is currently the choir director. “At Charlotte Country Day School I taught music and produced a spring musical each year with grades 5 through 8, presenting full-scale musicals like ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and ‘1776,’” she explains. “My husband, Tom, and I moved to Lockwood Folly more than 18 years ago. It wasn’t long until we found out about Sea Notes. We joined immediately.”

This year marks the Sea Notes’ 36th annual holiday concert. Hoffman promises there’ll be some familiar and some not-so-familiar pieces. “There is music from fine choral composers/arrangers like John Rutter, John Williams, and Samuel Barber,” she says. “There are several traditional carols and several lighter, secular ones. ‘Twelve Days to Christmas’—not ‘of’ Christmas—is from the musical ‘She Loves Me.’ It is fast and funny!”
The chorus will be accompanied by Susan Linton, the choir accompanist at St. Brendan’s. Two pieces are meant for four-hand piano, in which Linton will be joined by Jane Boberg. Another piece will require Linton at the organ and Boberg at the piano. “The centerpiece of the more serious music is Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on Christmas Carols’; this piece will feature Alex Hill, baritone,’ Hoffman shares.

Certainly a highlight of the night will be Hill’s vocals. He is the director of music and liturgy at St. Mark Catholic Church in Wilmington. Hill garnered a bachelor’s degree in music composition with honors at the University of North Texas and a master’s in conducting at Pennsylvania State University. He has performed in numerous university and regional operas and musical theatre. It will be a unique collaboration to cap off the 36th annual performance.


Brunswick Concert Band. Courtesy photo

Brunswick Concert Band Holiday Concert
Fri., Dec. 14th • 7:30 p.m.
Hatch Auditorium, NC Baptist Assembly
at Fort Caswell, 100 Caswell Beach Rd.
Sun, Dec. 16th • 3 p.m.
Odell Williamson Auditorium
150 College Rd. NE, Bolivia
Free, but donations accepted

Over 25 years ago, the idea for the Brunswick Concert Band was just a seedling, sowed by a group of musicians who acted as the pit band in the Brunswick Players’ production of “Oklahoma.” In 1995 it became an official non-profit organization. Today the band is a welcomed asset to the community, contributing each year to the annual naturalization ceremony in Southport and including musicians from Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender and Horry (South Carolina) counties.

Like the Sea Notes, the concert band performs three times during the year, all for free: in the spring, summer, and at Christmas. This holiday season will be no different as the Brunswick Little Theater singers will join in the fun, led by Debbie Skillman. The band will be directed by Tom Smicklas. “I joined the Brunswick Concert Band a little over one year ago,” he details. “Having a practically lifelong interest in wind instruments and almost 40 years conducting concert bands, this group was a great fit for me.”

In fact, Smicklas assures playing as a member of the band is as fulfilling as directing, though he appreciates being able to step back and admire the group. “The best part of conducting is to experience the wonderful effort and dedication expressed by each member and to witness the interaction between our student members and senior-aged players [current members are 14-85 years old]. The Brunswick Band is the ideal model of a community activity.”

The audience can expect a lively evening with the pairing of the band and the singers for such performances as a Gershwin Christmas salute, a medley of Broadway Christmas selections, and more. Smicklas says even the Grinch will make an appearance.
“Both Debbie Skillman and I were determined to program some of the best seasonal literature available,” Smicklas ensures. “The selections are designed to appeal both to the performers for their artistic challenge and to the audience, who will hear tunes that are both beautiful and foot-tapping.”

Recognizable songs will include “White Christmas” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” As well, selections from “Messiah” will be heard along with renditions of Mannheim Steamroller’s arrangements.

“Two significant pieces to be performed are ‘The Salvation Army March’ by John Philip Sousa, which was last printed in 1938 and obtained through special permission from the original publisher,” Smicklas continues, “and the Lustspiel Overture, played as it was recorded by the Thomas A. Edison Concert Band in 1912, 100 years ago. We obtained this work from the famed Eastman School of Music library in Rochester, NY. I hope the community attends one of the two free concerts this December to support this noteworthy artistic experience for performer and audience alike.”

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