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Awesome Holiday Concert Programs For School Orchestras

The holiday season is the annual opportunity for the school orchestra to put on a great show. Of course, since the holiday concert is done each year, it can become a challenge to mix things up and not do the same program over and over. Fortunately, it’s school – so you can recycle songs every few years for the new students. That not only makes your life a bit easier, but allows you to present some classical works that have religious origins, but also serious musical education value to each new student cohort. For a program going with classical works, including excerpts of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, which inarguably have clear historical and musical educational value, is always a good choice. 

But to keep your creative spirit moving and get the students excited, it definitely makes good sense to select new themes for the holiday concert program that give a new perspective and context for the music selected, even if some pieces will work for a variety of themes. 

Here are some themes, with song suggestions, to spark your imagination. We’ll start with the “oldies but goodies” themes and then move on from there. 

Classical Christmas

This program is comprised entirely of classical works. You’ll have a captive audience of non-musicians, so this is as good a time as any to introduce them to some awesome classical music. In addition to the Handel and Bach works already mentioned, other great options to include under this theme are Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy), Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Schoenberg’s Christmas Music if you want to expose the students to some modern classical composers You can also include some carols arranged for strings, like this version of Silent Night. 

Winter Wonderland

Really, you could almost do an entire program made up of movements titled “Winter,” works by Vivaldi, Alexander Glazunov, and Haydn, and including Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 (Winter Daydreams). Then there are other works that allude to wintertime and its traditions, like Émile Waldteufel’s The Skater's Waltz and Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden. Since the audience will also expect to hear some favorites they recognize, you can also include orchestral arrangements of popular winter songs like Winter Wonderland, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and Let it Snow Let it Snow Let it Snow. 

Around the World

For this theme, you can draw on a range of holiday, classical and winter themed music. The quirk here is to organize the program by the origins of the work or composer. In addition to selecting some classical music, it’s also an opportunity to include some winter or holiday songs local to other countries that aren’t familiar to American audiences. You can find some suggestions here and here. 

Best Holiday Movies

Nothing says the holiday season like a good holiday movie. This is a fun theme that allows you to bring in some mixed media and share stories as part of the program. You can start with the early classics. For example, you can include Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which was in the soundtrack for Miracle on 34th Street. Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite, a popular Christmas work, was actually composed as part of the score for a Russian film in 1934, also titled Lieutenant Kijé. One part of the suite, Troika, is considered especially winter-y as “troika” refers to three-horse sleigh that can only be used during a snowy winter. For something a bit more recent, there’s the festive (and crazy) What’s This? from animated movie Nightmare before Christmas. If you can include the wild animation from the movie clip as it’s performed, that’d be fun. And of course, what parent won’t be thrilled to hear some music from Frozen again (and again)? 

What have been your favorite songs to include in the holiday concert? Let us know in the comments below.  If you have one particular work you just can’t leave out – try looking at it from a new perspective to come up with a quirky, new theme that it would fit. Then use that theme to select the rest of the program.

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