Jeff Christmas - Conductor and Musician
Christmas with Jeff Christmas
An interview article by Rosemary Phillips,
“It's amazing how you can take all your life influences and pave your direction for where you want to go.” Jeff Christmas
It's not often you meet someone with the name Christmas, particularly someone who conducts, arranges and composes Christmas music.
“There are a few Christmases going on,” laughed Jeff Christmas, who was preparing to lead the Vancouver Island Symphony for Christmas Magic at The Port Theatre.
To find out a bit more about the origins of the name, a Google search for Christmas Family Tree brought up the Christmas Home Page with links to a history dating back to the 15th Century in England, Ireland, then Denmark and the US. Of course along with this Google result came many others, about Christmas trees for the family, genealogy gifts for Christmas, and so on.
How does Jeff live with such a name? “I'm forty now, so I'm used to it. It's a better question for my wife, Wendy. We got married 14 years ago in March, so she had time to settle into it over the summer. The name finally took hold when December came and she signed Christmas cards. We've had fun with it over the years. When Wendy was expecting our first baby I was joking about keeping the tradition in the family by calling the child Mary if it's a girl and Dwight if it's a boy.”
Jeff not only inherited the Christmas name and a wicked sense of humour, he inherited incredible musical talent. “Granddad (Christmas) was an on-the-road jazz musician in Europe, a multi-instrumentalist. He owned a pub and did a bit of vaudeville with Nanny. My dad was born in London and when he was ten the family moved to Canada. Granddad settled down and became a high school music teacher and conducted the concert band. When Granddad died, my dad, who was only 17, was asked to take over the music department. The school knew him as a fairly decent musician. He got a year at teachers' college then moved to the Sarnia area.”
Besides being a music teacher, Jeff's dad conducted the city band and had his own theatre choral group. “I was involved early on, playing drums,” explained Jeff. “Later I got a taste for arranging and writing small orchestrations for his orchestra pit. I would do charts and hear them played back within the week.”
It was Jeff's mum who gave him his classical influence. “She would listen to a lot of that type of music, and I think that's how I got turned on to it.”
After a sojourn at York University, University of Western Ontario, and Berklee College of Music, where he majored in film scoring and composition, Jeff took on the position of Composer in Residence with Orchestra London on a two-year grant. “The grant ran out so I'm now the unofficial composer-in-residence. It has been a great experience, a vehicle to write. I got to really explore and do some serious works, and have them played immediately. That's a luxury a lot of composers don't get.”
And Jeff, a multi-faceted musician, also conducts. “I still do the pops concerts, and the Jeans'n Classics series. That's what I do on the side when I'm not doing my own shows. Last year (2006) Orchestra London was wondering what I had in mind for a Christmas concert – their favourite concert of the season. I wanted to do a brand new show, with brand new arrangements and we thought to include a local singer. I had worked with Sonja Gustafson as a sideman-drummer, and I thought it would be great to feature her voice. She has a variety-pack of styles, including jazz and classical.”
The result is a concert full of great traditional and modern songs, singalong favourites, and some original creations that Jeff is now touring across Canada with Gustafson as lyric soprano soloist. It's a program packed with family favourites to listen to, sing with, sway with and be touched by – Pat-a-Pan, Silent Night, In the Bleak Midwinter, Carol of the Bells, Home Alone for Christmas, Mele Kalikimaka, Gesu Bambino. And for something completely different, Jeff added, “Sonja will be narrating the Night Before Christmas set to music composed in the style of a film score.”
And Jeff Christmas was true to form – he created a Christmas experience that helped put everyone in the spirit of the season.
For more information about Jeff Christmas, his music and performances, and for bookings visit his website.
Note: There are many more articles on this site.
Follow the link to view the Index