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Holiday music, so integral to our celebrations, stands the best chance of surviving 2020 intact.
But the people who create it — in theaters, churches, studios and at outdoor festivals — have suffered unprecedented losses. Furloughed, physically distanced and hemorrhaging cash reserves, professional musicians need our support more than ever, particularly if we want them to stick around until indoor performances can replace digital streaming as the de facto cultural “experience.”
As Ray Mark Rinaldi wrote about Colorado Ballet’s televised “Nutcracker” last week, streaming has a bright side. There’s no substitute for the energy and drama of the stage, but “for parents who shell out hundreds of dollars on tickets, outfits and pre-event luncheons, there’s financial relief” — as well as the gift of not having to listen to someone else’s kids babble through a show (mileage varies by household).
Spending money on a virtual holiday concert also could mean the difference between life and death for many cultural nonprofits. The SCFD — the seven-country metro area’s special tax district for arts and culture — on Tuesday joined with the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts to announce the latest phase of the CBCA’s Arts Through It All campaign, “Gifts from the Heart.”
CBCA’s marketing campaign, which launched Dec. 1, encourages donations to arts groups and relief funds; buying memberships and subscriptions from SCFD cultural nonprofits; and ignoring corporate retailers in favor of Colorado artists and companies via artsthroughitall.org.
There’s a lot of need, and a lot of deserving organizations. At the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, for example, the dark stages and loss of holiday performances this year have sidelined “3,500 actors, singers, musicians, artists, back-stage crew, box office staff and more who bring more than 2,700 performances annually,” according to the CBCA.
But we have a few ideas to start. Pull up a cozy flatscreen, laptop or mobile device for this year’s sampling of holiday-music performances that are locally produced or hosted, with proceeds going to metro-area arts nonprofits.
The family tradition
Colorado Symphony is one of the region’s busiest performing arts groups, churning out hundreds of hours of live music each year amid repertoire, pop collaborations, movie scores, recordings and Red Rocks concerts. You could honor that sweat and range of artistry by tuning into coloradosymphony.org starting Dec. 18 for “A Colorado Christmas,” a family-friendly, virtual show streamed from Boettcher Concert Hall. Directed by Taylor Martin, it includes Denver vocalist Devin DeSantis narrating ” ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” carols, “new winter tunes, and even some newly arranged surprises,” according to the Symphony. Groups include the Colorado Symphony, Colorado Symphony Chorus and Colorado Children’s Chorale. $15
The (virtual) dress-up show
The Lone Tree Arts Center has been savvy about offering limited-time digital events to tease the feeling of urgency from streamed performances, whether or not they’re locally recorded. Upcoming shows that pair well with a cocktail this year include “A Denver Dolls Holiday” on Saturday, Dec. 5, featuring a “White Christmas” and Andrews Sisters-style take on holiday music; a livestream of “The Doo-Wop Project,” featuring Tony-nominated singers on familiar Christmas tunes (Dec. 12); and a modest birthday party for Beethoven, featuring the Ivy Street Ensemble with Betsy Schwarm, as part of the Virtual Arts in the Afternoon series (Dec. 16). Choose what you pay; suggestions range from $5-$25 per show. lonetreeartscenter.org
The audio postcard
OK, so this isn’t strictly music, but it is an audio-only show. The Arvada Center for the Arts & Humanities began streaming Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” on Nov. 30, a radio-play adaptation of the Welsh poet’s 1952 BBC prose. Created by local actors Emily Van Fleet and Nathan Jones, with sound design by Jason Ducat, the show continues through Dec. 27. Pay-what-you-want tickets start at $10. arvadacenter.org
Brassy, and interactive
“While we cannot safely gather together under the glass at The Galleria, we still wanted to find a way to kick off the holiday season with all of you,” wrote Denver Brass officials, referencing their annual shows at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. This year, the group is producing a “mass ensemble” video edited together from digital, at-home contributions. “Participants of all ages and levels of expertise will meet over Zoom at 11 a.m. on (Saturday), Dec. 5, for a live, interactive rehearsal and workshop. Participants will be able to play through the entire Holiday BrassFest Carol Book along with the Denver Brass 5 from the comfort of their own homes.” Registration is $3, but that fee included with the $25 digital-download carol book. denverbrass.org/holiday-brassfest
Spruced-up (and free)
Other area singing groups that can’t get together are offering archival footage of previous live holiday performances spliced with new solos, numbers and other content, all free of charge via their websites and social media accounts. Of course, they certainly wouldn’t mind if you wanted to donate to their nonprofit cause while enjoying their past work. Denver Gay Men’s Chorus presents “A December to Remember” starting Saturday, Dec. 5, while Sound of the Rockies presents its “Christmas to Remember” starting Dec. 11. denverchoruses.org, soundoftherockies.com
Ye Olden Chamber Choir
Unlike many chorale groups and choirs, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir has been able to post locally recorded livestreams of its work this season — in this case, “An Olde English Christmas: The Britten ‘Ceremony of Carols.’ ” The medieval-sourced program for voices and harp features a mix of tunes that would sound great in a cathedral, on a cobblestone street corner or, as it turns out, on your cozy couch. $10-$25. stmartinschamberchoir.org
The trippy show for kids
Following its Dec. 9 Boston Brass streaming show (available one week after premiere with a virtual ticket), University of Denver’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts will stream Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol,” a mind-bending but kid-friendly show that mixes the Dickens classic with old-school puppetry. Made specifically for the Zoom era, the show — performed live from Chicago, with a live score — features hand puppets, miniatures, silhouettes and other hybrid artistry. This may be the first of many great, pandemic-specific shows to arrive (even if it’s not Colorado-specific). Dec. 17-19. $15-$20. newmancenterpresents.com
“The Hip-Hop Nutcracker”
Was there a “Hip-Hop Nutcracker” before “Hamilton”? Yes! And the same place that debuted the touring Broadway version of “Hamilton” in Colorado will also be virtually presenting this “contemporary dance spectacle set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless music.” All-star dancers, a DJ, a violinist and MC Kurtis Blow (opening the show with a short set) are all promised when the streaming program debuts at 7 p.m. Dec. 22, via bit.ly/3nq6nvu. Tickets benefit Denver Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$50
The Celtic blowout
In-person chorale shows, once seemingly impervious to any holiday disruptions, are off this year — including the Parker Chorale Holiday program, which was moved to streaming-only by the Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center before being canceled entirely. To fill the gap, PACE will be streaming Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy’s Celtic Family Christmas at Home, starting Dec. 6, with a (you guessed it) familial, home-based setting for its holiday musical numbers. $20. parkerarts.org