ALBANY -- Albany Symphony Orchestra Music Director Claire Fox Hillard says it's hard to believe that a Christmas season institution -- the Peppermint Pops -- will next year start its third decade of performances.
Two shows are scheduled for Saturday at the Albany Municipal Auditorium -- one at 2:30 p.m. and a second at 7:30 p.m.
For most of its existence, the Pops performances have been conducted at the Albany Civic Center on a Tuesday night for a single show each year. But last year, the audience-participation performances returned to the Pops' first home: the auditorium. With seating for less than 1,000, an afternoon show was added and the event was moved to Saturday.
"Originally it was at the auditorium. ... We've been back for two years, and it worked out really well last year," Hillard said. "We got a lot of positive comments about (offering) two possibilities to attend. The afternoon worked well for a bunch of people, and then the evening worked well for a bunch of people. I think we're going to stick with that.
"Even though it's at the auditorium, it's still participatory. It's open to the public and free of charge."
The change in venue hasn't changed the style of the event. The symphony is still supported by vocalists: this year the Albany Chorale and members of choirs at Albany High, Dougherty High, Monroe High, Westover High and Lee County High schools will perform. The audience is also encouraged to sing along from song sheets provided by The Albany Herald.
And, of course, the event wouldn't be complete without tenor Leroy Bynum's traditional solo performance of "O Holy Night," an audience favorite.
"It's music for everybody," Hillard noted. "We're doing a Hanukkah medley and we're doing an African-American Christmas tune -- it's music of the holiday season. And we do the Christmas songs."
In addition to the Hanukkah Festival Overture and "Betelehemu," the song list includes Christmas favorites -- some in medley form -- such as "Joy to the World," "The First Noel," Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" from "Messiah," "The Twelve Days of Christmas," "White Christmas," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "The Christmas Song" and others.
The only "cost" to participate is the suggested donation of a canned food item for the local food bank.
"We really highly encourage the canned food (donations)," Hillard said. "The food bank really depends on the influx of food, and we're a big part of that this time of year."
Hillard said the tradition is a special one for the community.
"Music is such a big part of the holiday season; it's just a way for us to do live music with our symphony and our chorus and our high school kids and just celebrate the holidays in our community with music," he said. "When I did the song sheets, I put on there that it's the 19th annual one, and I thought, 'Gosh, next year is going to be our 20th annual.' We're going to have to do something extra special then. Time does fly."
In addition to The Herald, the concert is being sponsored by Phoebe Community Vision; WALB-TV, which will televise the event; the city of Albany; Procter & Gamble; Brooks Counseling; the Dougherty County Rotary Club; Heritage Bank, and Moore, Clark, Duvall and Rodgers.