Martinsville High School’s auditorium was filled with the sounds of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Chorus during its annual Holiday Pops performance Sunday, sponsored by Piedmont Arts.
Although organizers said winter weather led to a smaller-than-usual crowd, those in attendance clearly enjoyed the performance.
It started with a Christmas classic nearly everyone would recognize immediately, “Joy to the World.” The symphony followed with a daring performance of “Masters in This Hall,” which featured the men of the chorus singing a cappella, followed by staccato movements by the orchestra.
Special guest Joy Lynn Matthews-Jacobs, known for her performances on Broadway, delighted the crowd with her renditions of holiday classics such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and “O Holy Night.” She shared a humorous story with the crowd about how she got such a “Joy”-ful name.
Matthews-Jacobs said doctors told her mother she was a boy. By the time she was born, “my mother had no girl’s names picked out. When she heard the song ‘Joy to the World,’ my mother said, ‘That’ll do.’”
Matthews-Jacobs also spoke about the importance of arts in the schools, as she serves as an artist in residence for many educational institutions.
She said, “Thanks to the arts, we can go into the schools and show (students) the amazing things the world has to offer, because all too soon, the magic seems to go away.”
The audience got to hear the Virginia premiere of “The First Noel” in a new setting, said David Stewart Wiley, director of the Roanoke Symphony. He said this version “starts off subtly, but layer by layer, verse by verse, builds in power.”
Kathy Wright of Bassett and Beth Oliver of Axton said they’ve added the tradition of attending the Holiday Pops concert to their Christmas celebrations.
“We enjoy all the songs they perform,” Wright said. “I don’t think I could pick out a favorite.”
Oliver added, “It really sets the season up for us.”
Following the intermission, audience members found themselves in stitches after a performance from special guest Randy Brooks, who penned the song, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Brooks said he got the idea after listening to Merle Haggard’s “Grandma’s Homemade Christmas.”
He said, “The songs set you up to love some old relative, and then you find out they’ve passed away. If grandma’s dead, admit it in the first line.” And that he did.
The concert continued in an upbeat fashion with a performance of “Santa Baby” featuring Matthews-Jacobs, who made her way through the audience and dazzled several lucky audience members. The orchestra and chorus made the crowd move with a fun performance of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”
The audience got its chance to shine during the Holiday Pops sing-along, which featured the classics “Silent Night,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and many more.
It was the first time seeing the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in action for Martinsville couple Frank and Linda Walsh.
Linda Walsh said, “We’re always out of town every time they come in, and I knew we would be in town this year, so I made sure to buy tickets.” She said they always look forward to hearing the holiday classics.
“One of the highlights of the evening was getting to hear ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’ And It was something being able to see the song’s writer perform it,” said Frank Walsh.
Barbara Parker, director of programs for Piedmont Arts, said the association sold around 1,000 tickets to Sunday’s show, including those in advance and at the door. Attendance, however, was noticeably down from last year due to the weather, she said.
“We had around 750 to 800 people there,” she said, “and we’re very appreciative of those who came out. Joy Lynn has an amazing voice — what a set of vocal cords, and I’ve known Randy (Brooks) for 40 years. They were such great additions to the annual concert.”
Parker said she is amazed at what the symphony is able to accomplish year after year. This is the eighth year the symphony has brought its Holiday Pops concert to Martinsville.
“What I love about the Roanoke Symphony is that they manage to change it up every year,” she said. “They make it fresh, but they still perform our favorite Christmas classics. It’s a tradition for many of us.”
Piedmont Arts Executive Director Kathy Rogers said there usually are around 1,200 people in attendance for the Holiday Pops concerts.
“Weather definitely had an impact on our crowd tonight,” she said. “We have a lot of older patrons who may have been concerned with coming. But we appreciated everyone who came out. We’re very lucky to have the Roanoke Symphony in our community. It’s just become a tradition for us to kick off the holiday season. They gave us a fabulous performance.”