When Jared Jacobsen’s children brought home “cheesy” holiday choral songs one year, it gave him an idea: What if he based an entire Tallman Tracker Organ concert on holiday characters like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?
“The only thing we’re missing is the snow and ice,” said Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “Which, here, can be a blessing. You can’t imagine what winter’s like here. It’s Currier and Ives run amok.”
Since, according to Jacobsen, Chautauqua during wintertime is like “Godzilla as a snowman,” performing Christmas music in July is a logical adaptation to the region’s harsh weather.
At 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 in the Hall of Christ, Jacobsen will play music on the Tallman Organ dedicated to “Christmas Characters.”
“I’m going to have the congregation sing a lot of stuff to highlight the various figures in the Christmas story,” Jacobsen said. “So it starts with the angels in ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,’ then the shepherds arrive on the scene in ‘Angels We Have Heard On High.’ ”
Jacobsen said that there will be “surprisingly little about Joseph” in the setlist for the concert.
“But there’s a lovely little English carol called ‘Gentle Joseph, Joseph Dear’ that’s sort of a rocking sound,” he said. “It’s in 6/8 time, so you can picture Joseph with the baby in his arms.”
Next, Jacobsen will play “We Three Things of Orient Are,” a song he said he “still hasn’t quite figured out.”
“The jury’s still out on when exactly the wise men arrived,” he said. “Many traditions say it wasn’t until two years later, which is a very long nativity. But we always lump them in with this charming fiction we have that Christmas in the Holy Land was when there was snow on the ground in a desert country. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Among Jacobsen’s favorites of the Christmas pieces he’ll be performing is the Chorale Prelude on Silent Night, Op. 37 by American composer Samuel Barber.
“Barber was not Christian, but he was fascinated by this tune,” he said. “He also didn’t write much for the organ at all, for all his dazzling orchestrational abilities. Except for this one piece.”
Even though the carol isn’t about specific characters in the Christmas story, Jacobsen said the song itself has become a character in Christmas for many people.
“The word is out that sooner or later, you might get Christmas in July if you come to Chautauqua,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”