Portland's Singing Christmas Tree is set to light up Keller Auditorium's stage for its 55th season this month with an all-new lineup of songs and performances, as well as some old fan favorites.
The 350-voice choir will perform a two-hour show that showcases both contemporary and traditional holiday music. The production will also include dance numbers by the Jefferson Dancers, special performances by local actors and musicians, and a cinematic "living nativity" - a Hollywood-esque version of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
No production of the Singing Christmas Tree is identical year-to-year, said Wes Walterman, director and CEO of Portland's Singing Christmas Tree. Walterman spends countless hours during the off-season making sure each year's show is new and exciting. "What we as a team strive to do every year is create a unique show for that particular year," says Walterman. "We are constantly looking for new songs. I myself literally listen to hundreds of Christmas songs beginning January in hopes of finding 4-6 brand new songs to introduce."
The Singing Christmas Tree held its debut performance at Benson Polytechnic High School in 1962 with a modest budget of $500. Since then, the show has grown substantially, and has had to relocate multiple times to accommodate increasing audience sizes. In 1968, the Singing Christmas Tree settled into Keller Auditorium, and has been there ever since.
In the spirit of holiday charity, the Singing Christmas Tree organization makes sizeable donations to various youth programs and high school music programs, including Doernbecher Children's Hospital, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and the Snowman Foundation. This year the organization began including local high school music programs in their charitable giving, as well as giving these programs the opportunity to showcase their talent during the show.
"I want our audience to hear what our local HS music programs are producing," says Walterman. "Every one of our nine performances has a different HS choir singing a song of their choosing and then joining our choir on two other songs during the show."
To increase accessibility to low-income Oregonians, the Singing Christmas Tree also hosts a "Sponsor Preview Night" that gives away free and discounted tickets to those in need. This year's Sponsor Preview Night will be on Wednesday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Despite many of the show's explicitly religious themes, the organizers and producers of the Singing Christmas Tree have made great efforts to foster inclusivity among religious and secular audience members. The show's first half features more secular numbers, including "Jingle Bells", "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", "Grown Up Christmas List", and an original medley called "Christmas Through the Years."
The second half is more religious in nature, with a live-scored nativity performance and a handful of gospel tunes. The "cinematic nativity", as the producers call it, may be the crown jewel of the Singing Christmas Tree.
"It introduces Mary, Joseph, three shepherds, three wise men, a host of other characters along with three life size camels that usher each of the wise men down the aisles of the Keller to the stage. It makes the nativity come alive," said Walterman. The show’s producers call the nativity performance “cinematic” because of the high production value coupled with a professionally-arranged score that has been likened to a movie soundtrack.
Adriana Peecher, who has been a member of the Singing Christmas Tree choir for the past 17 years, can’t imagine her holiday season without the show. She praises the show itself and it’s ability to bring people closer together during the holiday season. Peecher, in a comment on the Singing Christmas Tree’s Facebook page, says that the cast and crew of the show have become like a second family to her. “The messages are beautiful, the music is always the perfect mixture of styles. There is something for everyone to enjoy,” she said.
Tickets for Portland's Singing Christmas Tree are on sale now through Portland'5 Centers for the Arts website.