The Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Holiday Pops performances are among the most popular offerings this time of year. Fans of classic and contemporary music, sacred or secular songs, can find something to love at every show. Nothing is more majestic than hearing the orchestra play the beloved favorites of this season in the beautiful Embassy Theatre.
These traditions are expected, but Caleb Young, associate conductor of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, is happy to put his own stamp on the event.
“There are going to be some interesting changes this year,” Young said. “Our soloist is Lisa Vroman, who is a Broadway legend. She made her breakout debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love, and she starred in The Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd. She has a lot of experience in shows like this and is just an amazing singer. She’ll be my co-host for the show, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Of course, the center of a Holiday Pops performance is the music. Young has plenty of fun in store there as well.
“We were wanting to feature the orchestra this year, and we’re doing it with some great old school arrangements from Carmen Dragon, who is responsible for so many famous Christmas arrangements,” Young said. “I think it’ll be fun for the orchestra because they’ll really get to flex their muscles instead of just playing background music for a Christmas show. When Lisa’s not on stage, the orchestra will really be featured as well as the Holiday Pops Chorale, which features local and professional singers, and the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. In addition to that there will of course be Santa and Mrs. Claus along with six professional dancers.”
There will also be plenty of audience participation since a good Christmas song inevitably inspires people to start singing. While strong traditional elements like Hanukkah music and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah are on the program, so too are beloved sacred tunes like “Do You Hear What I Hear,” treasured classics like Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” and up-tempo favorites like “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” It’s a show that everyone in the Philharmonic and beyond look forward to each year.
“Holiday Pops is such a tradition in this community,” Young said. “People come up to me all the time and say, ‘I can’t wait for Holiday Pops!’ It’s usually the first thing out of their mouth, and I’m excited to build on that tradition and make my own mark on it.”
Vroman is also a veteran of holiday performances and looks forward to returning to Fort Wayne. Although a native of Upstate New York and a graduate of SUNY Postdam, Vroman had family living here for several years. Though they have since left the area, she has spent enough time here to be comfortable in the community and with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. In fact, her sister is a former choral director at Homestead High School, so music has always been part of her life, and performing is how she typically celebrates the holiday season.
“Musicians and singers don’t really get our own holiday because it’s a good industry time for us,” Vroman said. “I’ll be in Fort Wayne for two weekends which is nice, but there are a couple of other Holiday Pops I’m doing elsewhere, so I usually don’t even get home until Christmas Eve. So I always tell audiences, ‘This is how we spend our holidays – with you!’”
She, like Young, prefers to mix up the musical offerings, providing something for everyone attending.
“We’ll be doing some you’re familiar with and some that you may not be,” she said. “It’s always a great holiday event, especially during these times when the world seems a bit more tense. We need this kind of musical relief from all of that stress and those pressures. When you walk into a Holiday Pops performance, you know you’re going to get two-and-a-half hours off from that, and it’s very communal. We need something healing and soothing, and music is exactly that.”
Vroman has been busy in recent weeks readying a new opera and participating in a fundraiser for her alma mater, but she’s enjoying the opportunity to plunge into that very music she finds healing and soothing.
“My mother is a music teacher so it’s very nostalgic for me to do this music. Have I sung ‘O Holy Night’ enough over the years? Yeah. But it’s fun to see the audience and see little three- and four-year-olds in their pretty holiday dresses and hearing the symphony play all of these songs.”
Vroman’s husband provides her with arrangements that also keep the performances fresh each year. She enjoys the nightly variety of these performances mixed with the other projects she’s tackling this year after many years in the same roles.
“I played Christine in The Phantom of the Opera for 10 years, so it’s a real treat to not do the same show every night. There are always some surprises, and I have a great time working not only with your symphony but also with the chorus and adding in some audience participation.”
Vroman is as excited as Young about their collaboration as hosts and seem on the same page as they anticipate their days together for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Holiday Pops.
“Caleb and I had a great conversation the other day. I’m looking forward to sharing hosting duties with him, and I think we have a great plan for moving the show along. The main goal is to have as much fun as possible.”