A musical spectacle to bring in the holidays

green-bay-symphony-2by Donna Fischer

Exultant voices will blend with cellos, trumpets, and other instruments this December to create an invigorating experience for fans of holiday music. The Green Bay Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops concert calls people of all ages together for a celebration of traditional, beloved holiday tunes at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in Green Bay. And this show, which features the Dudley Birder Chorale, is so popular that they need to bring it back for a second night.

According to GBSO Executive Director Dan Linssen, the two – hour concert on December 13 and 14 is the symphony’s most popular of the season, due in part to the event’s dynamic quality. “What makes this interesting is that it’s not just music,” said Linssen. “It’s a very visual spectacle as well, and I think that’s partly why it’s as popular as it is, year after year.”

“They begin the concert with a procession; all the children come in with their white gowns from the back of the auditorium, and halfway through they meet up with an adult from the choir and they all proceed up onto the stage while music is being performed. They will do a couple of numbers with the children on stage. But then even throughout the concert, just the visual aspect of seeing this 130 – person vocal choir singing while the symphony is performing, it’s usually a breathtaking sort of experience. People who see this concert usually come back year after year to see it again because they’ve enjoyed it so much.”

The GBSO will also herald the season with a concert entitled, “A Brass and Organ Christmas,” on December 21. This concert has found a home at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in the past, but a schedule conflict forced concert planners to look elsewhere. “We needed to look for another church venue, and St. John’s (the Evangelist Church) turned out to be perfect for this. They’ve got a wonderful pipe organ there. It’s a beautiful old church, so we’ve decided to move the concert this year to St. John’s. That’s a more intimate concert experience than at the Weidner, and we use a smaller orchestra.

“We’ve got our brass ensemble from the orchestra, percussion and then the organist … we’re also bringing in a bag pipe player for this particular concert. It’s all orchestral; there’s no singing. It’s more traditional Christmas carols that go back to the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Believe it or not, the GBSO has been a part of the music scene in Northeast Wisconsin for 100 years now. To mark this impressive anniversary, they are planning a concert that should prove memorable for years to come. “Most seasons, that’s our one collaboration with the Dudley Birder Chorale, but this year, because of our centennial season we’re also going to take our April concert at the end of the season and do Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which is the ‘Ode to Joy’ theme, and we’re having not only the Dudley Birder Chorale, but they’re bringing in some extra voices, so we’ll have a two – hundred voice choir for that performance in April.”

Unlike a typical civic orchestra, the GBSO is comprised of professional musicians, many of whom do not live in the Green Bay area. “Our musicians are regional and national professional musicians who come to town on concert week. We do the rehearsals, we perform the concert and then they go back to where they come from. Many of them are from Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Madison and so forth. Many more come from the Chicago area and Twin Cities area and a few come from the Los Angeles area. Some are college professors, some of them make their living as touring musicians, some of them have their own studios where they do their own high – end teaching.”

Linssen, who had been retired until receiving a recent call to lead the GBSO, strives to have people rethink their preconceived notions about symphonies. “I had been on the board of the symphony for a couple of years. The board president had asked me about my interest in taking on this role. I finally agreed to come out of retirement and take this on for a few years and see if we could get some new energy infused back into the symphony.

green-bay-symphony“I think the single biggest challenge is trying to break people’s old perception that a symphony is something stodgy and boring. When you come to any of our concerts and what you’re going to see is fun and great music. We’ve got lively things going on in the lobby beforehand and afterwards. We’ve got a conductor who speaks from the stage about the music. The concerts this year are going to be anything but boring. In fact this would be the season where if somebody hadn’t been to the symphony before, this would be the right time to come and check it out.”

Music is most profound when it lends structure to an event or season. This Christmas, take advantage of the spirited concerts offered by the GBSO, and let the music of the holidays help shape wonderful memories for you and your loved ones for years to come.

For more details on tickets to the GBSO’s Holiday Pops concert, or any upcoming concert, go to

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