Good Pops Music

There's good and bad pops music. Good is well written and arranged, with idiomatic orchestration. Bad is not, especially when individual parts are awkward. Difficult is okay, but poorly written becomes awkward and difficult to pull off.

We have played three out of the four total Columbus Symphony Holiday Pops concerts this weekend. An extra concert was added Saturday afternoon due to popular demand. If you still want to attend, there is one more concert this afternoon (Sunday Dec. 6) at 3PM.

(If you know someone in the CSO, you can get a promo card for free downloads of several tunes from our website,

I don't have very difficult parts, (maybe that's why I like them!) so I used these performances to practice my Alexander Technique, breathing ideas, voicing, and general relaxed concentration; skills I often forget to monitor during more difficult programs.

Ronald Jenkins has created a dedicated following in Columbus with his careful mix of light classical, traditional and new pops works for the Holiday Season. It's always a feast of the artistic senses; with singers, dancers, children, stories, sing alongs, humor, and a visit from a "special guest from the North Pole." Something for everyone. And it works.

This program featured some new and some old music. Ron usually includes a few classical works on the first half. This weekend, he added two movements from Handel's Judas Maccabeus Oratorio, an inclusion of some music in honor of the Jewish holiday tradition of Hanukkah. He also likes to feature concertmaster Chas Wetherbee whenever he can. This program had two movements from Vivaldi's Winter concerto from the Four Seasons.

Craig Courtney, who resides in Columbus, wrote what has become our traditional Holiday Pops Overture, a delightful and well arranged selection of several Christmas carols. We've done a few other works by Craig, and they are always fun (often really funny, too, especially his 12 Days of Christmas satire) and well written.

This program featured two works from Wonder Tidings by Stephen Main from San Francisco. Evocative instrumentation set the mood for the first piece, In the Bleak of Mid-Winter, oboe solo (Steve Secan), Harp (Jude Mollenhauer) and soprano (one of three wonderful singers from the chorus), with strings and some full chorus. The second featured a strikingly appropriate jubilant orchestration for Alleluja, A New Work is Come on Hand.

The CSO Chorus was radiantly featured in A. Randolf Stroope's acapella (unaccompanied chorus) All My Heart This Night Rejoices. Two Ballet Met dancers created a lovely, romantic vignette to this sweet music.

The first half ended with an arrangement of Deck the Halls, to hint at the lighter second half.

The second half is always more folksy and traditional in style. This year it's 3 Christmas carols in a sing along for the audience, followed by two works for the wonderful Children "New World Singers" honed to high quality by Sandra Mathias. One of my beginning clarinet students sings in this choir. I'm very proud of him.

Then a Mel Tormé classic tune, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, followed by Leroy Anderson's quintessential classic Sleigh Ride (conducted by a child member of the audience).

Then we played Ronald Alan Bass The Night Before Christmas, with the story/poem told by Linda Dorf and acted by several Ballet Met children dancers. I particularly like this piece, which is deliciously composed, and which reminds me of the brilliant music of John Williams.

A few more Christmas tunes and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus and we were done.

Often, during these long hauls of ultra-light saccharine music, musicians will poke fun by adding a word or two to a title. Some previous musician had changed the name of one of the last tunes we played from "We need a Little Christmas" to "We need a Little Less Christmas". As much as I enjoyed the music, I think I've had enough to last me until next year.

But I'm glad the audience enjoys it. A happy audience is our goal.


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4 comments for “Good Pops Music

  1. James Langdell
    December 13, 2009 at

    Yes, the voice part is a straightforward version of Adam's melody, but the differences in Courney's piano arrangement set off the different dynamics of a clarinet well. It begins and ends with a sparse "night music" piano part. Here's a link to the collection that contains that version of O Holy Night:

    • December 13, 2009 at

      Thank you James.

  2. James Langdell
    December 10, 2009 at

    I'm glad to hear Craig Courtney is now also writing orchestral works. His church choir music is exceptionally good, very distinctive and powerful even when composed in a way that can work with limited resources. I strongly recommend clarinets using a piano/vocal arrangement he made of "O Holy Night". His piano part sets off the melody in an unexpected but convincing way.

    • December 10, 2009 at

      Interesting, James. I'll have to look into that arrangement. So you think it would work well with clarinet playing the voice part?

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