Recalling Holiday Memories with Friends of the Center for the Arts


Longtime Friend of the Center for the Arts Bob Warakomsky, collected cherished memories from other Friends about their holiday experiences at the Center for the Arts, compiling nostalgic snapshots of festive fun throughout the years.  

Dianne Blais

DIANNE BLAIS remembers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy 

"This concert stands out among the many amazing performances I’ve been privileged to see at the Center’s Concert Hall. Natalie is simply amazing—She danced in addition to fiddling (all while being pregnant!) and her family ’s performances were equally terrific."

PAULETTE MILLER celebrates Chanticleer 

"The first time the wonderful a cappella group Chanticleer performed at the Center for the Arts, I thoroughly enjoyed their beautiful harmonies with songs from Gregorian chants to the Charlie Brown Christmas song. They explained that their luggage had not arrived with them and that they had to quickly purchase the colorful sweaters they were wearing instead of the tuxedos their audience was accustomed to seeing them in. I thought at the time, 'Who needs tuxedos?' The warmth and joy of their performance demonstrated that no matter what the wrapping of the package is, what’s really important is the love that goes into the gift inside."

MARK BRODDY looks back on the Vienna Boys Choir 

Mark Broddy with his wife, Dawn.
Mark Broddy with his wife, Dawn.

"My favorite memory was when I was 'upstaged' by the always fabulous Vienna Boys Choir at their December 2018 performance. I was ready to give an opening curtain speech when there was confusion backstage with my cue and the Choir's entrance, which resulted in the boys unexpectantly joining me onstage. I gave my speech after the intermission, telling the audience, 'I was supposed to welcome you at the beginning of the evening, but the boys were so excited to get out here and sing for you, they ran right past me!'" 

Want to experience the angelic Vienna Boys Choir? Visit the Center’s sister venue, the Hylton Performing Arts Center, on December 10 in a special performance of Christmas in Vienna

SONJA PALOMAKI recalls The Five Irish Tenors 

"One of the most memorable events held by the Friends of the Center for the Arts was an Artist in Conversation featuring The Five Irish Tenors. After their energetic performance, the five young singers were seated on a small stage in front of our group and cheerfully answered our questions, engaging in a lively conversation well into the evening. We discovered that one of the singers was Scottish which promoted banter as to which was better, Scotch or Irish whiskey. Joined by holiday-themed décor, I fondly remember how lively the group was and that they seemed to enjoy being with the Friends as much as we enjoyed being with them."

A beloved tradition with many special memories:
American Festival Pops Orchestra 

"One of my favorite holiday experiences at the Center was the touching rendition of the beloved Christmas poem, 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' during the annual American Festival Pops Orchestra (AFPO) concert. The melodious voice of the poem’s reader (College of Visual and Performing Arts Dean Rick Davis) was the same of the offstage artist who had cautioned us to “turn off our cell phones.” His stirring rendition of the age-old poem revealed a deep joy that reminded me of wonderful, madcap Christmases with my dear parents and our household of nine children engaging in the fun of making the holidays merry!" —EVELYN KILEY 

Janice and Jim Wolfe
Janice Sutera Wolfe with her husband, Jim.

"Listening to the AFPO holiday concert reminds me of my own time in orchestras while growing up. I experienced the performers’ joy in creating music and their delightful response to an appreciative audience.  What better way to start the holiday season than with such an exquisite musical experience!" —JANICE SUTERA WOLFE

"I remember AFPO holiday concerts like they were yesterday: the orchestra was seated onstage when to the audience’s delight, conductor and Artistic Director Peter Wilson joins the orchestra wearing a red and white Santa hat. At another one of these AFPO concerts, Rick Davis took a seat in front of the curtain and several young children gathered at his feet while he began to read, '’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house...' Rick was several lines into the poem when a loud giggle erupted from one of his young listeners. The audience loved it, and Rick, unfazed, went on with the reading. These concerts always conclude with an audience holiday sing-along, and I had attended with my granddaughter. Standing to sing, and on cue, I burst out with 'Deck the Halls' except it didn’t sound like singing, rather it closely resembled the cry of a pig stuck in the slats of its pigsty. My granddaughter was petrified. It wasn’t until the final 'fa la la' that my voice returned to normal. Fortunately, the audience paid little notice and continued lustily singing along."

Experience the audience-favorite tradition, American Festival Pops Orchestra, at the Hylton Performing Arts Center on December 8 and at the Center for the Arts on December 9

Finally, BOB WARAKOMSKY chimes in with his top two favorite holiday performances at the Center: 

Bob Warakomsky shares favorite holiday memories.

"My most memorable (and very favorite) holiday concerts are those given by the MacMaster-Leahy family, whether individually or as a group. Their recounting of family Christmases in Cape Breton Island are both charming and nostalgic, reminding me of Christmas times with my own family in my younger days. The biggest difference is their family is music-oriented and their holidays are filled with lively performances by family members. Throughout all of their holiday performances, I get a comfortable and cozy feeling inside, reflecting the joy they emit from the stage with their wholesome performances and friendly, folksy chatter. 

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention my second favorite performances. They were the Holiday Pops concert performed by the American Festival Pops Orchestra and conducted by Tony Maiello, AFPO’s former conductor and Artistic Director. Watching and listening to Maiello, I felt like I was sitting in his living room and he was talking directly to me. I felt a warm glow emanating like a fiery wood fireplace from the stage, and Tony had me completely under his spell of holiday wonder and cheer."

Members of the Friends of the Center for the Arts make a world of difference by ensuring Center for the Arts programming remains vibrant and diverse each year. A portion of the Friends membership fee supports educational programming opportunities, such as Artist in Conversation events, which provide Friends with one-on-one opportunities with Center for the Arts performers. In addition, they support educational programming, such as Pre-Performance Discussions, which provide all patrons of the Center for the Arts with unparalleled access to artists prior to performances.

Extra benefits include:

  • Exclusive access to ticket presales and the best seats in the house  

  • Access to the exclusive Friends-only area with complimentary snacks and beverages, available to you at every Great Performances at Mason and Family Series event   

  • Invitations to special events such as pre-show Artist-in-Conversation discussions and the Annual Season Preview (admittance to select Friends-only events requires a $150+ donation)  

Join the Friends today and start collecting memories that will last a lifetime!