URI’s Holiday Extravaganza kicks off the season in a big way

Concerts bring together more than 180 musicians, vocalists on Dec. 2, 3

KINGSTON, R.I. – Nov. 16, 2023 – If you like your holidays big and bold, you’ll want to check out the University of Rhode Island Music Department’s Holiday Extravaganza.

For two concerts, the extravaganza will bring together six of the University’s main music ensembles—more than 180 musicians and vocalists, all on one stage—for a show featuring a collection of traditional holiday standards (and some not so traditional). The concerts are Saturday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 3, at 3 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston. Tickets—$25 for adults and $15 for students and seniors—can be purchased through Eventbrite

The extravaganza is the brainchild of David Gilliland, associate teaching professor of collaborative piano at URI, who oversaw a similar holiday show when he was at Davidson College. The format is new to URI, which has traditionally hosted holiday shows by individual ensembles or smaller collaborations.

“I think everyone loves holiday music,” said Gilliland, who is organizing the event. “It’s an easy sell—especially when you get numbers of this size together. I think it makes it that much more impressive. I always enjoy the spectacle of big holiday concerts, and hopefully, it’s something the community will take to.”

The shows will feature three vocal ensembles—URI Concert Choir, University Chorus and In The Pocket—along with the Jazz Big Band, Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra. Each will perform two selections on their own and come together for a “carol-along” with the audience. Mike Maino, a long-time radio personality at classical music station WCRI, will emcee the shows.

Gilliland said the music will include a variety of traditional holiday songs ranging from arrangements of well-known Christmas carols and Hanukkah standards, to orchestral movie soundtracks and modern adaptations of jazz and pop tunes.  

“The goal was to create an inclusive holiday musical experience for our audience that would showcase music across many different styles and genres,” Gilliland said.

To bring all the performers together, the concerts will use all three tiers of the Concert Hall stage, from the jazz band in area directly in front of the main stage to the vocal ensembles on risers at the back of the stage.

“It’s all coming together. My biggest challenge left is to sit about 180 people on the stage at the same time,” said Gilliland. “It’s going to be close quarters.”

The vast majority of the department’s music majors and minors will participate in the concert, some performing in multiple ensembles.

“I’m looking forward to the show,” said Liam Knott, a double major in music and math from Exeter, who will play trombone in three ensembles, wind ensemble, orchestra and jazz band. “It will be an interesting challenge both logistically for the department and personally for the musicians. …. Each ensemble has a different playing style and bring its own challenges. While holiday music is generally easier than our normal repertoires, it is widely known and means our performances need to be as close to perfect as possible.”

Valentina Gomez, a music therapy major from Woodlands, Texas, will be performing with three vocal ensembles, including a combo that will perform in the lobby as audience members leave. “I think it’s a really cool new idea and I’m excited to see how it turns out,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the whole department all together, kicking off the holiday spirit.”

Evelynne Lepe, a major in voice performance from Northridge, California, echoes those feelings. “I enjoy the idea of everyone being able to show off the music department with the different ensembles,” said Lepe, who will play clarinet with the wind ensemble and sing with the Concert Choir and University Chorus.

The enthusiasm about bringing the entire department together for a signature event extends throughout the department, Gilliland said. “We’re just beginning to investigate the possibilities with this,” he added. “This might be something that we’ll be doing on a regular basis.”

More December shows

While the Holiday Extravaganza will bring together most of the University’s main ensembles on one stage, each will wrap up the fall semester with separate shows. The concerts will reprise some of the music from the holiday show along with other works. All shows are scheduled for the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.

The University Chorus and the Symphony Orchestra will join forces on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 8 p.m.

The symphony, directed by Luis Viquez, will perform music by American composer Jennifer Higdon, whose “Soliloquy” for solo English horn and orchestra will feature URI instructor Jane Murray, a member of the Rhode Island Philharmonic. The orchestra will also play Stephen Yarbrough’s “Alleluias for Orchestra” and selections from the film “The Polar Express.” They will join the chorus for two selections from British composer John Rutter’s “When Icicles Hang.”

The chorus, which is directed by Elizabeth Woodhouse, will also celebrate the holiday season with two acapella songs, the Hanukkah song “S’vivon” and the traditional Spanish carol “Fum, Fum, Fum,” along with a second set that will include the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”

On Thursday, Dec. 7, the Jazz Big Band, under the direction of Emmett Goods, will present a tribute to renowned tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, featuring URI jazz saxophone teacher John McKenna. The concert will begin at 8 p.m.

On Friday, Dec. 8, the In the Pocket jazz choir, directed by Atla DeChamplain, will present an eclectic mix of standards by such jazz legends as Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan and Freddie Hubbard. The concert starts at 8 p.m.

On Saturday, Dec. 9, the URI Concert Choir will present works from across choral music history—from the Renaissance to present day—dealing with such themes as the nature of time, love and power, war and peace, and the holiday season. The concert starts as 7:30 p.m.

Choir director Mark Conley said the format is based on ribbon candy, with each piece connected not only to the works before and after it, but to the works two places before and after it. “Audience members can interpret our concert in a linear fashion or they can follow two different storylines simultaneously, as if following the top loop and the bottom loop of the ribbon candy separately,” he said.

On Sunday, Dec. 10, the Wind Ensemble and Concert Band, directed by Brian Cardany, will present concerts of traditional repertoires for each band, starting at 3 p.m. The Wind Ensemble will present works by major composers from three eras of wind band repertoire – Percy Grainger (“Children’s March”), Alfred Reed (“Russian Christmas Music”) and Frank Ticheli (“Blue Shades”). The Concert Band will perform a variety of works from the past half century, including a tribute to popular band composer Robert W. Smith, who died recently.

The fall schedule wraps up that evening at 7 p.m. with the student composers concert. About eight students from the composition studios of URI instructors Eliane Aberdam and Zaccai Curtis, will present works, which will be performed by about 20 student musicians and vocalists. The concert is free.