In Brandon, Traditional Holiday Concert Has New Twist

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(Host) Choirs everywhere are putting on special holiday concerts. Usually, the singers are accompanied by pianos, organs – sometimes even a full orchestra.    

But the Brandon Festival Singers are trying something different. As part of their program, they’re adding a touch of New Orleans’s jazz.  

VPR’s Nina Keck has the story.

(Keck) While the Saints May Go Marching in, Dixieland jazz is not something most people associate with church choirs or Christmas music for that matter.    


(Keck) Eugene Childers, a retired music teacher and long time Dixieland jazz enthusiast decided to do something about that. Childers has directed the Brandon Festival Singers for 31 years and says he’s always wanted to blend his two passions. 

(Childers) "Choir and Dixie land band. Now there’s an interesting combination. I thought, well I don’t’ know of any music written for that combination, certainly not a Christmas piece other than traditional carols something like that."

(Keck) So he composed a collection of seven original songs performed by the choir and a six-piece Dixieland band that Childers plays trumpet in. The result is a toe-tapping blend of jazz, swing, ragtime, blues and two dozen harmonizing voices.

(Keck) The songs tell the story of the birth of Jesus. "Gabrielle," tells of the angel that came to Mary. "Go and Find the Christ Child" evokes the shepherds’ quest to follow the star. Then there’s the :Manger Blues."

(Childers) "I thought about that – is that disrespectful?  Or what is that?  I thought, Gosh no, the blues – there’s nothing disrespectful in that.   It’s in the style of the blues and that’s good old fashioned American music."

(Keck) Brandon resident Denise Keating has sung with the Festival singers for ten years.

(Keating) "I think at first it was a challenge to get the timing right – but the instruments really lend an excitement to the music and it actually raises our singing.  And why not? Christmas music has been done in every musical way and – and why not Dixie."  (laughs)

(Keck) Choir member Bernie Carr nods.

(Carr) "I just said to someone a minute ago – people are going to leave this concert and say man, that was the greatest Christmas concert I have ever been to – because you can’t help but just have joy in your heart after hearing the second part of that program."

(Keck) As the banjo, trombone, piano, bass, clarinet and trumpet took turns with solos, most of the choir members sway to the beat and even Childers wife Jean can’t resist jumping up to dance with her husband for a few measures while he conducted. What if people get up and dance during the concert?

(Childers) I thought about that too – and it would be very okay – my guess is they’ll be doing it in their seats, but it will certainly be OK."

(Keck) For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck in Brandon.

(Host)  The Brandon Festival Singers Directed by Eugene Childers will perform Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at the Brandon Congregational Church.   

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