Making the holidays merry with live music

Writer|Becky Roberts

When we moved to the San Francisco area in 2000,  Jack and I made a commitment to take advantage of being so close to a major city and see more live musical events. We’ve kept that promise by attending many concerts in San Francisco and in the East Bay where we live. While we go to as many performances throughout the year as our budget will allow, the holiday season is the time to feast on the abundance of great music for the season.

This year, we bought tickets for three performances; a jazz concert, an opera, and a gospel choir concert with the symphony, all in San Francisco. This is a double treat because some of our favorite restaurants are in the Hays Valley neighborhood close to these venues. This picture of nutcrackers decorated the front window of a neighborhood bakery right behind symphony hall. We spied these while walking to dinner before a concert last year. And, if you aren’t familiar with San Francisco, the arts district is a very walkable area.

SFJazz Presents Dianne Reeves, Christmas Time Is Here

We’e starting off our musical holiday feast with a Dianne Reeves concert at SFJazz. Now, I have to admit that as much as I’m looking forward to the concert, I’m also looking forward to dinner before the concert. It’s just real convenient that the new SFJazz venue is right across the street from the Hays Street Grill, our favorite seafood restaurant in San Francisco.

I can’t say that I’m familiar with Dianne, but the New York Times calls her, “The most admired jazz diva since the heyday of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.” She will be covering tunes from her Blue Note Christmas Time is Here album. It should be a treat, and the acoustics and intimate stage at SFJazz should showcase her talents nicely. Yes, in this case, we could buy the record, but playing the record at home is nothing like the experience of a live concert. Congratulations are due to SFJazz for building a truly spectacular performance hall.

SF Opera’s Premier of Golden Girls of the West

I’ll confess that we debated purchasing these tickets for the Golden Girls of the West opera, as they were pricey, but we decided to go for it because the story line for this opera is so intriguing, The San Francisco run is the world premier, and the opera really is about the women and men who flocked to the California Gold country hoping to strike it rich. A good bit of the story was actually inspired by diaries from people of that time period.

The New York Times calls this collaboration by John Adams and Peter Sellars “the most eagerly anticipated new opera of the season.” As you can see from the photo above, the festive seasonal lighting at the opera house sets a holiday mood even for a performance that is not geared to the holiday season.

This is a first for us as we have not gone to an opera before. The venue, however, is top-notch, and we have attended the ballet, SFJazz events before they moved to their new home, and even a Steve Tyrell concert in this hall. You can be sure that we’ll get back to you on what we think of this opera.

Holiday Soul with the San Francisco Symphony

The Christmas season is glorious at the San Francisco Symphony, and attending at least one concert there in December is a must do. First of all, I love the holiday decorations from the outside windows to the three levels inside the hall. The top two levels of the building  have a curved side of massive windows that face the street, and different school, civic, and religious groups decorate live Christmas trees to fill these windows. We try to get there early just to see the trees.

Now, another important thing to know about the San Francisco symphony hall is that it was built with the idea of getting as many butts in seats as possible. I say this because if you choose anything other than box seating, you are going to get to know your neighbor quite well during the concert. So, we find that we are just more comfortable ponying up for the box seats, which contain moveable and comfortable chairs. And, as one little lady who had two of the seats in the same box with us one night told us, “This is our front porch for the evening. We can move our chairs around to get comfortable.” And, we believe she’s right!

We bought tickets to the Holiday Soul with the San Francisco Symphony concert, which features the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, CeCe Winans, the best-selling female gospel artist of all time, Edwin Hawkins, the Grammy-winning originator of  “Oh Happy Day,” and, of course, the San Francisco Symphony. I predict we will be smiling all the way home after this concert as we have attended several gospel/jazz/soul concerts over the years, and they are just “feel-good” events.

So Why Attend Live Music Events

When you own a high-end audio system like most of us do, you might ask why should you pay the money to go to a concert when you could listen at home. There are a couple of things I’d say to that. First, if you want to claim that your system sounds like a real performance, how do you know if you don’t occasionally go to live performances. And second, I want music to move me emotionally, and I know I’m much more into the music in a performance hall hearing exceptional talent with a crowd of people who are also enjoying the experience.

And, finally, as this picture of our oldest granddaughter, Lily, shows, the holidays are a great time to introduce children to music. A couple of years ago, we took her to a concert at our local symphony, and they had a musical “petting zoo” introducing young children to the instruments in the orchestra. She was fascinated, and I’d bet your kids would be too!

I also want to acknowledge that there are plenty of live holiday music events that aren’t put on by professional groups like those I’ve mentioned here. From community choirs, school musicals and church concerts, the holidays are overrun with opportunities to enjoy live music, so celebrate and enjoy the feast! After all, what would this time of the year be without music?

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