Christmas with the Symphony

From left, Sioux City Symphony Orchestra's Travis Morgan, Lynn Gross, Michael Berger and Judy Bligh at Orpheum Theatre.

Justin Wan, The Weekender

Traditions thrive during the holiday season, and they come in many forms.

It could be the unwrapping of one gift on Christmas Eve, enjoying the tastes of a family recipe throughout the month of December or retreating to the basement during the holiday dinner to watch the football games. For some folks in the Siouxland area, it’s a yearly visit to the Orpheum Theatre.

With its ornate architecture, warm lighting and festive decorations, coupled with the promise of Christmas music performed by the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, it’s no wonder why some might consider Christmas with the Symphony a Sioux City tradition. Chief Executive Officer Travis Morgan certainly believes so.

“This is a Sioux City staple,” he said. “This thing has been around for years and years and years. I think people mark their calendars for this.”

So by that assumption, this year’s calendars should be marked for Saturday (Dec. 9). In addition to the playing everyone’s favorite traditional and popular holiday songs, the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra will be accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, violinist and North High School student Robert Hwang and four bell choirs from local churches.

Morgan himself will be reading the poem “The Night Before Christmas” on the Orpheum Theatre stage, an activity he will now share with the other “local celebrities” he used to watch read during his visits to Christmas with the Symphony.

“People that were influential in this town that everybody knew were up there reading,” Morgan recalled. “It’s a Christmas tradition that is not necessarily done in the home anymore. Some people do, some people don’t. This brings back that opportunity to read and to hear ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ That can bring back a lot of memories.

“It’s a tradition that maybe gets lost here and there, but it’s a tradition you can count on every year at the Symphony. And if you’ve never heard ‘The Night Before Christmas’ with a live orchestra, it’s awesome!”

Is all this talk of orchestras and symphonies giving you second guesses? Do you think this holiday get-together is only for the top-hat wearing fancy folk?

Ease your worries, dear readers. Christmas with the Symphony isn't some hoity-toity night out. In fact, Morgan shakes his head at that notion. The Sioux City Symphony Orchestra has been battling that stigma for some time. To help, Christmas with the Symphony has added a sweater contest.

That's right. Guests are encouraged to wear their best holiday-inspired garments and take part in the Christmas sweater contest. Prizes will be awarded to the winners of four categories: Best Couple, Most Christmas Spirit, Most Original, Most Likely to Receive a Lump of Coal.

Morgan added that there will be a "massive concert announcement" at the end of the Christmas with the Symphony show.

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Christmas with the Symphony

From left, Sioux City Symphony Orchestra's Michael Berger, Judy Bligh, Travis Morgan and Lynn Gross at Orpheum Theatre.

The songs are the real highlight of the show. Christmas with the Symphony takes a traditional approach to the classic holiday songs we've come to recognize each year.

The booming brass section and tranquil strings of the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra -- conducted by Music Director Ryan Haskins -- give added weight and scope to the carols without compromising the audience's connection to those songs.

In other words...

"It's the classic songs that everybody knows and loves that aren't twisted by pop artists," said Morgan. "Don't get me wrong, I love me some Mariah Carey, but at the same time I think a lot of people love going back to their childhood."

They certainly bring up memories for Morgan, who grew up in a small town and remembers walking up and down streets with members of his church singing Christmas carols the traditional way -- a similar manner in which the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra plans to perform.

"What I like about this situation is this is the way your great grandparents heard it, your grandparents heard, your parents heard and you heard it as a kid," said Morgan. "It takes you back to when you were opening presents as a kid. I found myself watching these concerts and having memories just sort of stir up."

The urge to sing might be too much for some. And that's OK! In addition to the heavy instrumentalist pieces like Antonio Vivaldi's "Winter," there will be a time when the audience will be encouraged to sing along to recognizable holiday tunes.

"If you can’t get into the Christmas spirit after going to this, then there’s no hope for you," said Morgan with a laugh. "You’re officially a Grinch."

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