As students leave autumn behind and transition into the holiday time, VCU Music will host its annual Holiday Gala, a celebration of the festive winter season through music. The show, running approximately 90 minutes, will take place on Friday, Dec. 6.
While not all sections begin their preparations at the same time, the event will feature a sizable portion of the music department, including Jazz Orchestra 2, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the Commonwealth Singers, the Guitar Ensemble, the Community Guitar Ensemble, the Trumpet Ensemble and the Percussion Ensemble. The Holiday Gala has taken place for more than 20 years.
“Richmond likes traditions (and) this has become a Richmond tradition,” said guitar professor John Patykula.
A great deal of preparation goes into the Gala.
“It’s one of the few times everybody’s involved in a production,” Patykula said. “I think a lot of us try to be creative.”
The music department started planning the event months ago, so students would have all semester to perfect their pieces.
“For my guitar ensembles, I actually hand this out in September,” Patykula said. “We have several pieces that we work on over the semester, but I give them that well in advance so it’s as polished as it can be.”
The gala will feature a variety of music, including both Christmas classics and modern pieces.
“You’re going to have some of the same carols every year, because that’s what they’re coming to hear,” Patykula said. “One piece that we always have is ‘Sleigh Ride’… that’s just a traditional piece that gets the Symphonic Wind Ensemble a chance to shine.”
Lesser-known pieces include “Good King Kong” (a parody of “Good King Wenceslas”), and a jazz reinterpretation of “The Nutcracker.”
“The Nutcracker suite was a piece originally written by Tchaikovsky,” said Charles West, coordinator of winds and percussion. “(Duke) Ellington made a jazz version of that.”
Organizers for the event did their best to make it more than a simple concert. “It’s less of a concert and more of a show …” West said. “We even have an appearance from Santa Claus.”
Prior to old Saint Nick taking the stage, Babs Jackson, president of the Hospital Hospitality House, will make a speech. All the proceeds of the event will go to the Hospital Hospitality House, a Richmond-based lodging organization for hospital-bound individuals and their relatives. The goal of the organization is to provide a comforting environment for patients and reduce medical costs related to boarding.
“The Hospital Hospitality House provides lodging and non-medical support services for patients and families … (who) would not be able to obtain medical care,” said Debra Rogers, annual fund and grants manager of Hospital Hospitality House. “Referred families are served with dignity, integrity and without regard to financial resources.”
Over the years, the gala has proved to be a boon to the Hospital Hospitality House.
“I would say (the gala raises) an average of maybe $2,000 a year, so that would end up being about $40,000 raised over 20 years,” Rogers said. “I think that figure is probably conservative.”
However, the event is more about the holiday spirit than anything else. Instead of focusing on the fundraising aspect, the show is specifically tailored for simple familial enjoyment.
“We try (to) not make the program too long because it’s a family event,” Patykula said. “It’s become a tradition with a lot of families and they bring their kids.”
The show holds a special significance for the students as well, as it is the last concert of the semester.
“For us, it marks the end of classes,” West said. “Of course there are finals … It’s a sort of doorway event.”
Rogers, who has attended the event each of the last eight years, said attendees always enjoy it.
“It’s a wonderful way to kick off the holidays and witness some incredible talent from VCU students (and) musicians,” Rogers said.
The show starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and younger.