, Salem, MA

December 6, 2012

A generous helping of music for the holidays

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — DANVERS — The North Shore Philharmonic will hold a free concert Sunday afternoon, with a program that should satisfy everyone’s appetite for holiday entertainment.

“We’ll play a mixture of standard classical pieces, like the Russian dance from ‘The Nutcracker,’” said Robert Lehmann, the orchestra’s conductor. “Then we’re going to have some lighter fare, like ‘Around the World at Christmas Time.’ And there will be a singalong at the end, for everyone to participate in.”

The concert will also include a visit from the Back Bay Ringers, a handbell ensemble that was founded in Boston in 2003 and has recorded several CDs.

“They’ll play a solo selection, which they’re going to announce from the stage,” Lehmann said. “They’re also going to do ‘Carol of the Bells,’ a traditional piece, in a special arrangement that they do.”

There will also be a reading by soloist Jilly Martin of Truman Capote’s touching story “A Christmas Memory,” to music written by contemporary composer J. Mark Scearce.

“He captures the mood so nicely,” Lehmann said. “When they’re talking about cutting down the Christmas tree, and there’s a groan and crack as the tree falls, he represents it in the music beautifully. And when the kite gets aloft, there’s a harp glissando. The audience will enjoy it.”

Martin, 26, of Chelmsford, will also sing “The Christmas Song” by Mel Torme, which is best known by its opening line: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”

Her first musical love is country and western, and Martin has opened for major acts that include Randy Travis and Miranda Lambert.

“My grandparents always listened to country,” she said. “Country seems to fit. People say they can hear the twang in my voice when I sing.”

But Martin, who has been singing since she was 9, can work in a range of styles, at least one of which is sacred.

“I cantor a lot of Sunday Masses at St. Richard’s,” she said. “I’m glad to be with a few familiar faces.”

For all her experience, this will only be the second time Martin has sung with an orchestra, and she is looking forward to it.

“It’s a different feeling,” she said. “You need to stay with the music — I usually take a lot of liberties with a band.”

Last year was the first time the holiday concert was held in Danvers, at St. Richard Church, after being inspired by a nearly identical concert that the Philharmonic has played in Revere since 1976.

“Gary DeStefano went in 2010 and was so impressed by the sheer amount of food being collected,” said John Call, who along with DeStefano is one of the co-chairmen of the event. “Both Gary and I are on the St. Richard’s Parish Council together, and we went to Father Flannagan and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Donations of nonperishable food will be accepted at the door Sunday and will go to the People to People Food Pantry in an attempt to alleviate hunger in Danvers.

“Last year, we collected about 8,000 pounds of canned goods,” Call said. “It was a phenomenal success.”

The Revere version of the “Sounds of the Holidays” concert became a fundraiser in 1990, said Robert Marra Jr., president of the orchestra’s board of directors.

It was then named for Marra’s father, who was one of the orchestra’s founding members in 1948 and served as its concert master for many years. He died in 2002.

“We came up with the formula of private funding, free admission and a food drive,” Marra said. “And that has proven to be tremendously successful in Revere. We fill St. Anthony’s in Revere.”

The concert is well on its way to becoming a tradition in Danvers, where along with St. Richard’s, it is supported by the Living Legacy Financial Group and C.R. Lyons and Sons Funeral Home.

Several local nonprofits also pitch in, by helping handle the donated food.

“The Scouts collect it,” Call said. “And St. John’s Prep National Honor Society helps unload it at the food pantry.”

People to People Food Pantry then feeds local families in need, which include homeless families being sheltered in Danvers motels.

“It’s a win, win, win, all the way around,” Call said. “And 800 people get to enjoy an excellent concert.”

If you go What: "Sounds of the Holidays" concert, featuring Jilly Martin and The North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra When: Sunday, Dec. 9, 4 p.m. Where: St. Richard Church, 90 Forest St., Danvers More information: All patrons are requested to bring a donation of nonperishable food to benefit the People to People Food Pantry.