The Holly & The Ivy, 2018

Attending the Indiana Landmarks holiday concert has become a tradition for me. Enjoying wonderfully talented musicians and singers in a beautiful setting—what’s not to like?

Doors were scheduled to open at 7pm. Come early to get your preferred seat, they advertised!

They lied. Well, sort of.

I showed up at 6:45 and the auditorium was already half full. Huh. Doors must have opened at 6:30 or even 6:15, I thought. Mental note to come even earlier next year. (Usually I arrive early enough to park in their lot and walk through the neighborhood to enjoy the historic buildings.)

As usual, the concert did not disappoint. The program listed many of the same people. Some new performers. Other performers from past years were missing. (The trombone player who hams it up was noticeably absent though his soprano singing wife performed.)

Mark Herman who normally plays the organ through the silent Halloween films joined the roster this year. Two other singers who are choral directors in the Indiana school system filled in for Rick Vale, the usual co-host who was missing due to a cold. (Kayla Shoemaker and Jennie Swick were great additions with their beautiful voices!)

Randall Frieling and Rick Vale usually co-host with friendly comedic banter between them. With Rick absent, Randall was forced to ham it up on his own, which he did a very good job of.

The Circle City Ringers were back with many familiar faces in its ranks. Their bells are a delight to hear—even they mixed it up with a song that involved choreographed tapping of sticks and stomping (…which earned playful ribbing from Randall).

Phoenix Park-Kim and Randall performed a couple duets on the piano. They are always amazing. Listening to Phoenix play solo is a true joy too.

The 1892 organ was put to good use with Mark’s and Randall’s playful competition of church vs. theatre organ playing. (I haven’t really considered the difference before. Organ music is organ music, right? Well, no.) Mark even coaxed the organ into imitating a train for an adaption of Santa Claus is Coming to Town (on a train rather than a sleigh.)

One thing I realized as a listened to the performers and watched them sing and play was how much they enjoyed what they were doing. Most of them had smiles coming from deep inside. They truly enjoyed what they were doing. And I truly enjoy performances where performers are carried away by their own enjoyment of performing.

The attendees of these annual Indiana Landmarks holiday concerts are truly blessed. The musicians and singers who perform actually perform around the country and the world. Herman plays globally and Frieling has played in such venues as Carnegie Hall. (I noticed the Frieling is now listed as associated with a Florida church rather than his previous Anderson church.) Thankfully they all find their way back to Indy.

Judging by the crowd, I am not the only one who appreciates their talents. I would encourage you to join us next year, but I don’t want the concert to become too popular. Best to keep it a secret than to spread the news of world-renown performers appearing in our Indiana neck of the woods for a holiday concert.

The Holly & The Ivy, 2017

I returned to the Indiana Landmark Center for the annual holiday concert. This year I arrived a bit later than normal (but still a few minutes before the doors to the auditorium were set to open). The foyer was packed with more and more people streaming in—to the point that they couldn’t close the doors to keep out the winter cold.

This year I spied another familiar face, or rather a familiar face spied me (a woman from a Meetup I attend). To my disappointment, she was long gone once I emerged from the concert.

The concert this year contained some elements of continuity from previous years as well as some new elements. The Circle City Ringers were back—a handbell choir that is a delight to hear and watch. Performers switch back and forth between multiple bells, either ringing them or hitting them with mallets.

Phoenix and Randall were back, playing a couple piano duets together. I was blessed to sit on the side of the auditorium that allowed me to see their handwork as their hands wove back and forth in between the others’ hands.

The Huntoons were also back, John playing the trombone and Diana singing solos and lending her soprano voice to accompany others. John played several numbers, including You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch—kind of dueling duet with Randall on the organ. I realized that his rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas with audience participation was missing this year.

A new addition was the Indianapolis Arts Chorale under the direction of Casey Hayes. The chorale sang several songs on their own but also accompanied other performers. The silliest of their numbers was the Forgotten Hanukkah Carols, where a bubbe introduces a CD for sale featuring several well-known Jewish carols.

Of course, Rick Vale, the emcee who is a total ham on rye, was back to lead the crew as well as sing some solos. (To be fair, most of the performers in the concert are total hams. They all seem to know each other and greatly enjoy each other’s company.)

As usual, the concert included a sing-a-long of several carols. This year concert closed with Joy to the World performed by Phoenix on the piano, Randall on the organ, the Circle City Ringers, and the Indianapolis Arts Chorale all performing.

The Holly & The Ivy, 2016

I returned to the Indiana Landmark Center again this December to enjoy their annual holiday concert. The entrance was packed with people waiting for the doors to the hall to open. As I waited to enter the beautiful concert venue (an old Methodist sanctuary), I saw a familiar—but out of place—face. A woman I knew from my hometown was also here to enjoy the concert!

Many of the same people from the same church in Anderson returned to perform. The emcee and singer Rick Vale, the organist and pianist Randall Frieling, and trombonist John Huntoon were back. New faces included soprano Diana Huntoon (John’s wife) and pianist Phoenix Park-Kim.

Like last year, the air of the concert was one of festive silliness. Banter between the performers showed their true nature. The audience joined in the fun through active participation in the Twelve Days of Christmas. The trombonist gave some audience members pictures of each of the twelve days to hold up as we sung—and he played—through the song. As the designated audience members held up their pictures, they had to sing and/or act out the picture. Hilarity ensued.

The concert was not just fun and games. Musical talent was on display with serious Christmas songs, singing duets, and piano duets. (Phoenix and Randall played some amazing numbers together on the same grand piano.) The Circle City Ringers, an auditioned bronze-level community handbell ensemble, was back again this year, ringing in several songs.

A few pieces from last year made it into this year’s concert, but for the most part the selections were new and ranged from classical (a piano duet of The Nutcracker) to classic Christmas (an organ and handbell version of O Come, All Ye Faithful) to the whimsical (a singing duet of The Twelve Days After Christmas).

Probably my favorite bits were the piano duets of Phoenix and Randall. They were hams as they simultaneously elicited beautiful music from the same piano—he at the keys on the low end and she at the keys on the high end.

I can’t wait to see them play together again—or to hear any of the other performers. I’m looking forward to enjoying the general silliness that ensues during the concert next year—silliness between the performers and between the performers and the audience.

The Holly & The Ivy, 2015

Looking for new holiday traditions, I tried out the annual concert at the Indiana Landmarks Center. I missed seeing a good concert—I often attended the holiday concerts at my church back in California, which had a very musically inclined (and talented) congregation.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Rather than sitting in my usual spot on the main floor of the Grand Hall, I meandered up to the balcony where I had a view of the entire room. Double rows of handbells were lined up before the stage, with the Steinway and historic church organ gracing the stage itself.

The Circle City Ringers—a handbell ensemble—were excellent, playing both traditional and whimsical Christmas songs. Their talent was matched by the other performers—organist, pianist, trombone player, bayan (accordion) player, and singers—who hailed from the Central Christian Church in Anderson, Anderson University, and the Northminster Presbyterian Church.

Many of the songs were duets, such as between the piano and the organ, the piano and the trombone, or the trombone and the organist. Several of the performers were complete hams that kept the audience amused and laughing between and during songs.

The Holly & The Ivy concert is another Indiana Landmarks presentation that is well worth it—and has the added bonus of being held in the beautiful Indiana Landmarks Center in the Old Northside section of Indianapolis.

The necessity of music


“Without music, life would be a mistake.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Or, How to Philosophize With the Hammer

I was once asked why a child should learn how to play an instrument. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t anticipate the question, much less inhabit the realm from which it sprouted. Music is core, music is key to living.

Music feeds the soul, influences moods, lifts spirits, enriches one’s life. Music transports one to another realm, another time. Music recalls events from the past and inspires actions to be. Music deepens one’s experience.

To live life without music in one form or another, to live life without enjoying music, without creating it, is not to really live at all.