"Melodies of Christmas” opens today at Proctors for its four-day annual run.
The entertainment extravaganza is a fundraiser for the Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center. But what audiences see and enjoy now is a huge change from the one-day concert that started it all more than three decades ago.
“The show is very different,” said Lisa Jackson, Melodies’ executive producer from CBS-6, who has worked on the show since 1995. “In 1980 when it began with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, it was a well-attended family concert. Now, it is four fully sold-out shows.”
The idea for that first show came from Jim Delmonico, then-general manager at CBS-6, whose daughter had cancer, and Elmer Streeter, then the spokesman for Albany Medical Center, where a new program was being developed for children who had cancer. The next year, the Empire State Youth Orchestra took over and continues today with 100 players this season, but the other acts in subsequent years were fairly random with only a few costumed walkabout critters dressed by The Costumer, Jackson said.
’Melodies of Christmas’
WHEN: Today, Friday, Saturday at 7 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $25, $15
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
In the mid-1980s, Freihofer Baking Co. and the Grand Union became the show’s sponsors. By the late 1990s, more walkabouts and more shows were added. The big change to the show came in 2000 after Price Chopper became a sponsor replacing Grand Union.
’Melodies’ on TV
The show will be broadcast on CBS-6 at 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Christmas Eve and 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Christmas Day; and on CW15 at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Christmas Day.
“That was a real game changer,” Jackson said. “In 1999, with Grand Union, we had raised all of $133,000. But in 2000, with Price Chopper it was $300,000. We added a fourth performance because we’d sold out.”
To date, Melodies has raised $6.8 million for the Melodies Center and expects that amount to reach $7 million this year. The funds go toward making the center more hospitable for the children undergoing treatment and which insurance companies don’t pay for, such as having cheerfully painted walls, toys, books and an aquarium, she said.
Performers over the years usually had some connection with the ESYO. Clarinetist Amy Platt and drummer Randy Crafton return to play the popular “Little Drummer Boy.” The orchestra also will perform an arrangement of “The Holly and the Ivy” by Nathaniel Efthimiou, a 2010 ESYO grad who is studying composition at Houghton College.
“I talked to Nathaniel last summer and asked him to do a three-minute Christmas carol arrangement that was festive,” said Helen Cha-Pyo, the ESYO music director since 2000. “It’s a wonderful arrangement and well written. I’ve never done that particular carol. It will be a nice addition to the program.”
In the beginning, there was only one speciality act from the Capital Region and now there are many, Jackson said. They have included Ernie Williams and his Wildcats, the McKrells, the Racing City Chorus, Maria Zemantauski and a tango dancer, singer Arthur deLuke and Big Medicine band. This year, the special guest is Everest Rising, a bluegrass quartet. There is also a special secret act that only ticket holders will be able to enjoy.
New stage, bigger show
For years, 20 seats had to be unbolted so that the stage could be extended to accommodate all the performers. Now, Proctors has a bigger stage. Before, scenic backdrops came from various companies, which made for inconsistency. Once that Adirondack Scenic Design became regularly involved, that changed. Where once only one television camera had been needed, now seven cameras with all the backup personnel to handle those logistics are used.
In 2001, Orlando Pigliavento choreographed “It’s a Wonderful Time” for his Orlando School of Dance, integrating many of the walkabout critters that were really Girl Scouts from Scotia-Glenville Troop 207.
“It was a showstopper and pulled it all together,” Jackson said.
That segment became a traditional offering and 35 of his dancers will perform it this year. Darlene Myers’ Northeast Ballet Company joined to regularly present segments from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” which this year will be 11 of her dancers in the Spanish and the Russian dances.
A strong tradition
Jackson also noticed how many of her volunteers returned each year and how many of the audience were familiar faces.
“The show holds a special place in their hearts, even people in the newsroom,” she said. “Many audience members are regular concertgoers but others never come to Proctors any other time of the year. That’s why we keep the favorites.”
“The show has such a strong tradition. It’s rock solid,” she said. “It’s special when you can say you’ve worked together for a decade.”
This year, the show includes the 71-voice ESY Chorale under the direction of Rae Jean Teeter; emcees Liz Bishop and Greg Floyd of CBS-6; and hosts Bill Sullivan of Freihofer’s and, for the first time, Jerry Golub of Price Chopper.
The real showstopper, however, might be the 21 children who have been treated at the Melodies Center and come on stage to sing “Silent Night.” That gives the show a reality that the audience might otherwise miss, Jackson said.