• Lillie Burke

‘Christmas at Belmont’ is back with new music, new challenges and a new venue

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go.

From sparkling wreaths and trees to the festive fountain lights at Freedom Plaza, holiday spirit abounds on Belmont’s campus.

But most show-stopping of all, the university is welcoming the return of its “Christmas at Belmont” full-scale musical production.

The annual stage show, featuring almost 600 Belmont musicians, is the first to be taped in the new Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, and will premiere Dec. 20 on the PBS channel on TVs across the country.

For the student singers and players who took the stage at Wednesday night’s taping, it will be a festive night to remember.

“I think that every musician has a special connection to Christmas and holiday music, so to get to put on this show and have it be broadcasted to so many people is definitely a rewarding feeling”, said freshman Treble Choir singer Jiana Kevious.

Leading the cast, country artist and 2010 Belmont alumnus Blane Howard stepped up to host the show, and change to the lineup made after previous host Josh Turner stepped down due to a positive COVID-19 test on his team.

Blane Howard performed covers of Josh Turner’s Christmas music in the absence of the former host. Belmont Office of Communications

The showcase let music students participate in a nationally broadcast performance and get experience in the industry.

“It’s one of the really unique pieces of being a music student at Belmont,” said Blake Ryan, a music education junior who performed with the University Singers. “Not a lot of other schools have an opportunity to put on an event like this and to have it be televised and get that notoriety.”

Both singers and instrumentalists can take that experience into a future career.

“It was like having a sneak peek into what I, hopefully, what I am going to be doing in the future,” said commercial music major A.J. Huang, a saxophonist in the jazz band.

There will be music enough for everyone in the broadcast this holiday season, from room-filling choral arrangements to groovy jazz, popping percussion and soulful bluegrass performances, to high-energy choreography from Belmont’s musical theater students.

“There’s a lot of variety in just one event, and a lot of work put into it both on the tech side and on the side of the performers and the directors,” said University Singers freshman Quinn Martin.

Belmont’s student bluegrass ensemble. Belmont Office of Communications

Belmont’s student percussion ensemble. Belmont Office of Communications

Belmont’s student musical theater ensemble. Belmont Office of Communications

This year’s program also marked the first time it was filmed on campus since 2007, after years of producing the show in downtown Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

The annual production will now have a permanent home in the Fisher Center.

“To be able to have our own space is great, because it’s right here on campus. We don’t have to worry about bussing students downtown or other logistical matters that come with the territory of being somewhere else,” said artistic director and conductor Jeffery Ames, who teaches choral ensembles in the School of Music.

Figuring out the best way to bring the show to life in the new space challenged the show’s production crew as well.

“We are learning about where we can put our cameras and what works best, seeing the layout for the first time, checking to see that the camera can get in tight on the upstage students,” said video director Don Carr.

Even with the adjustment phase, Carr said the entire production is a testament to Belmont students’ talent.

“I think that one of the best reasons to come watch the show is to see the growth of the students and their level of ability in what they’re doing, because it’s not easy playing what they’re playing,” said Carr.

Preparing for the performance was a major time commitment for students.

“It has definitely been a lot of work. It’s just really cool to be singing with groups of almost 600 and an orchestra. It’s great being a part of the whole experience,” said Martin.

With the music school coming together to celebrate a Belmont tradition, “Christmas at Belmont” represents the unity that comes with the Christmas season.

“It’s a way to put you in the Christmas spirit … with being able to enjoy live seasonal music by your peers and by our students,” said Ames.

“Christmas at Belmont,” will air Dec. 20 on Nashville Public Television and PBS across the nation at 8 p.m. with an encore showing on Christmas night, Dec. 25 at 9:30 p.m.

Jeffery Ames and the student choral ensemble. Belmont Office of Communications

PHOTO: The opening number of “Christmas at Belmont,” featuring the full cast. Belmont Office of Communications

This article was written by Nicole Speyrer and Rose Winchester.

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