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Holiday Pops concert presents Christmas music with meaning



The Holiday Pops Chorus Orchestrwill perform concert Dec. 7 St. Michael's Church.

The Holiday Pops Chorus and Orchestra will perform in concert on Dec. 7 at St. Michael's Church.

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Holiday Pops Chicago, 7 p.m. Dec. 7, St. Michael’s Church, 1633 N. Cleveland. $25-$100;

Updated: December 6, 2013 3:36PM

It’s a comment Maestro Scott Arkenberg has heard over and over and over again.

“People tell me that they came to Holiday Pops because they wanted to find Christmas again,” he says, his voice quivering in the silence that immediately followed the sentence. “And I guess, in a way, it helps me find Christmas, too.”

Because on the occasion of the very first Holiday Pops concert back in 2001, Arkenberg was going through a pain we all will inevitably go through. His father and his mother had both passed away that year; using song to work through his sorrow got him through it all.

But now, 12 years later, he can’t hear the melody of “Silent Night” and the sound of that haunting English horn without first remembering those daunting days. “We play ‘Silent Night’ in their honor,” Arkenbreg says quietly. “Music is attached to the heart and soul throughout the year, but especially during the holidays.”

Among the song lyrics that will be sung on the evening of Dec. 7 at the annual Holiday Pops Chicago concert is an undeniable emotion that we all feel, even within this high-tech, status-filled, sterile world.

“Last Sunday, we were practicing one of the songs, but we were having trouble getting the feeling behind the words,” explains Joe Aschenbrenner, an optometrist by day who serves as a vocalist in the Holiday Pops Chorus. “Maestro Arkenberg ended up telling us a story about how when he was a little boy, he would lay under the Christmas tree and look up at all the lights, and what a magical experience that was. I mean, we immediately could relate to the story because we all had done it, too. With those memories behind the lyrics of a song, there is no way not to sing without a ton of feeling behind it.”

“For seven weeks, a community of singers comes together to blend their voices in song,” adds Arkenberg. “They are all so different, but so alike in so many ways.”

This blending of distinctive voices is a unique one indeed, especially since there is no formal audition process for the Holiday Pops Chorus. Anyone can join no matter age or religious background or vocal talent. Yet, rest assured, the ensemble that makes up the chorus is a skilled bunch. The evening also will include the impressive vocal gifts of Chicago media personalities such as Stefan Holt, Anthony Ponce and Maryann Ahern. “We are just regular folks that get together one time a year to sing our hearts out,” adds Arkenberg.

Sing — and play their hearts out, that is. Because the 80 voices that make up the Holiday Pops Chorus will also join the 47-piece Southport Symphony Orchestra on this particular evening. The night will also include two musical pieces arranged by founder of “Straight No Chaser” and WGN-TV reporter/anchor Dan Ponce, and the emceeing talents of NBC 5 reporter/anchor Rob Elgas.

“St. Michael in Old Town is thrilled to host Holiday Pops Chicago again this year,” concludes Fr. Tom Santa, the church’s pastor. “The beautiful choral music combined with the orchestra, set in our sacred space is a fantastic way to kick off the Christmas season.”

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