December 4, 2013

RPO Musicians Share Holiday Traditions

As we move into this busy time of year—with all the holiday parties, shopping, decorating, cooking, and getting ready for houseguests—we took a moment to ask the RPO musicians about their holiday traditions and favorite holiday music. Of course, there are the annual Gala Holiday Pops concerts to prepare for. But beyond that, we asked them what they do to celebrate the holidays.

Concertmaster Juliana Athayde says, “My favorite holiday tradition is celebrating Christmas Eve with my family in California. Since my mom’s family is of Norwegian descent, we celebrate on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Complete with performing at late night mass (our whole family is made up of musicians), enjoying a delicious dinner, and opening presents!

“As kids, we always had to make sure the dishes were cleared and the dishwasher was running before we could open presents. Then, we would each open one present at a time starting from the youngest person in the family to the oldest. We still do it that way and I love that it allows us to focus on what each person has given and received, instead of everyone ripping open their presents at the same time.”

Principal Clarinet Kenneth Grant says that his holiday traditions include “enjoying our week of Holiday Pops … and quiet times with family in front of the fireplace.”

Acting Principal Cello Kathleen Murphy Kemp says, “When my kids were little, we cut down our tree and made lots of Christmas cookies. Dinner and church on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, and we opened stockings before breakfast. Traditions are changing now as the family has grown up. Excited to see what their traditions will be!”

As far as favorite music, Juliana has quite a collection of jazz and retro holiday tunes. “If I had to pick a favorite,” she says, “it would be any of Harry Connick Jr.’s holiday albums. I think I have them all and the combination of his velvety sound along with the great arrangements—whether for big band or intimate jazz combo—make for a great listening experience sure to liven up any holiday gathering!”

Kenny Grant recommends the Johnny Mathis album The Sounds of Christmas. And Kathy Kemp suggests, “The RPO holiday CD, of course!”

You can purchase your own copy of the RPO’s A Holiday Celebration, featuring the Festival High School Chorale, tenor Tonio Di Paolo, and Jeff Tyzik’s The Twelve Gifts of Christmas, Little Drummer Boy, and Chanukah Suite. It's on sale now for $5 in the Eastman Theatre Shop or online.

Why Donors Support the RPO

The RPO is “a cultural jewel that I want to help preserve,” says donor Deanne Molinari (pictured at left), a retired higher education administrator from Fairport. “The RPO is one of the best orchestras in the United States, and the most versatile as evidenced by the various concert series and the education work it does.”

Molinari is one of more than 30 donors who have joined the newly formed Artistic Excellence Society (AES), which recognizes annual campaign donors who make three-year pledges of $2,500 per year or more. “I was pleased to be able to join the Artistic Excellence Society because we are so fortunate in this community to have an orchestra to support,” she says. “Many communities have lost that option because they were unable or unwilling to support their orchestras when the need was greatest.”

“I’ve long been convinced that supporting our outstanding orchestra also provides support for so many other Rochester cultural organizations that are connected to the RPO,” says Rob W. Goodling, a Corn Hill resident, former Churchville-Chili choral director, and current music history instructor at the Hochstein School of Music and Dance.

Funding from AES members directly supports musicians' compensation, educational programming, artistic innovation, and concert and guest artist or guest conductor underwriting.

In addition to helping the RPO to attract and retain the best talent, serve the community, and grow in national recognition, other benefits of joining the AES include the opportunity to “adopt” a RPO musician, complimentary refreshments at Eastman Theatre concerts, a special donor brunch, and much more.

Jeff Crane, superintendent of schools for the West Irondequoit Central School District, says, “Sue and I enthusiastically joined the AES as a way in which we could demonstrate our gratitude for—and influence the sustainability of—the tradition of excellence that is the RPO!”

For more information about joining the AES, call Lauri Van Hise at 585-454-7311, x280 or e-mail her at

Orchestra photo by Janice Hanson.

December 3, 2013

20 Years of Gala Holiday Pops

This season, the RPO celebrates Jeff Tyzik’s 20th anniversary, and also the 20th annual Gala Holiday Pops concerts, taking place Dec. 19*-22. Tyzik conducts the RPO, along with the Festival High School Chorale and the new Community Children's Chorus, in sparkling carols, holiday favorites, and more.

In recognition of this momentous occasion, we talked with chorale director Harold McAulliffe, who works with co-director Amy Story to put the concert together.

How did the first Festival High School Chorale come together?
Jeff approached myself (High School Choral Director at Pittsford Sutherland), and Lonnie Arnold (High School Choral Director at Fairport) to see if we would be interested in recruiting and preparing a choir made up of students from local area high schools. We were, and the rest is history.

What are some of the highlights for you?
The greatest highlight is having former participants share with me the positive significance that their experience played in their lives. Seeing the pride that the students show when having the honor of performing with the RPO. Observing how competitive it has become to now be a part of the choir.

What has changed through the years?
The quality of the choir. We now have standards such as NYSSMA** solo scores and previous NYSSMA and County festival participation. The students now have to be recommended by their teacher and the teacher has to rate each submitted student on a proficiency list.

How do you find new singers for the chorus each year?
We invite each choral director from all area high schools to submit to us a list of no more than 10 students for our consideration. Each student’s qualifications and proficiency list placement is taken into consideration.

What is the atmosphere like backstage during the Gala Holiday Pops?
Full of excitement and pride as the students realize the honor that they are experiencing.

* Dec. 19 is a special performance benefitting the Rochester Rotary Sunshine Campus and the Monroe Community Hospital Foundation. Ticket prices for this concert differ from the other performances.

** NYSSMA = New York State School Music Association