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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Sheboygan orchestra finds a way to celebrate

Critic At Large

Sheboygan Symphony Holiday Brass in performance. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

SHEBOYGAN,Wis. (WFRV) – February 8, 2020. That was the last time the Sheboygan Symphony put on a full-orchestra concert.

So much has happened since then because of all the sour notes of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s been a long, “absolutely devastating” time for orchestras, Joshua Hernday, executive director of the Sheboygan Symphony, says as part of a distinctive recording that’s available online.

The full orchestra still is sidelined. Saturday night, Dec. 12, the orchestra’s brass section, plus guests, presented a livestreamed concert from the stage of Weill Center for the Performing Arts, the orchestra’s home.

Brought in to guide the concert as conductor (and more) was a specialist, Mike Forbes.

Tuba is his instrument. He teaches tuba and other brass at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He once was in the U.S. Army Band, one of the military outfits that’s so good at playing and programming and being audience-friendly. It seems a lot rubbed off on him.

One of Mike Forbes’ notable touches in the concert (see the orchestra’s Facebook page to tune in) is introductions. The one for “We Need a Little Christmas” goes something like this:

The tune is from the movie “Mame.” In it, October 1929 has happened – the crash of the stock market that led to the Great Depression. In December, the go-getting’ Mame figures everybody needs some lightening up. Thus, the song, “We Need a Little Christmas… right this very moment.” Mike Forbes runs with that as he says, “If ever there was a time when we need a little Christmas, 2020 is it.” The group plays Mike Forbes’ adaptation of the evergreen, which happens to have the zest of a polka. Hey, this is Wisconsin.

Following Saturday’s live performance, the orchestra posted the concert. With a live performance, what you hear is what you get – and the 13 musicians perform more than well. No amplification was used, which is just fine because the hall is expressive.

Weill Center scene. (Screenshot)


Sheboygan Symphony Holiday Brass

++ Trumpet – William Dick (acting principal), Donald Sipe*, Steven Ehrhardt*, Brian Hanes*

++ French horn – Annette Eis (principal), Pam Holzhaeuser, Micah Lancaster

++ Trombone – Jason Sebranek (principal), Branden Mueller

++ Bass trombone – Jeremiah Eis

++ Tuba – Josh Sevigny

++ Timpani/percussion – Alex Weir*

++ Drumkit/percussion – Jonathan Chudnow*

* – substitute musician


It’s an appealing performance with various turns on mostly familiar material, like:

– “Fum Fum Fum” with splashy Spanish spices, including castanets.

– “Twelve Days of Christmas” with Mike Forbes arranging the days to be played in a different key.

– “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” as “a tribute to Tuba Christmas everywhere” with the group’s one tuba joined by three euphoniums (euphonii?) and added low brass (all in Mike Forbes’ ballpark).

– The opening “O Come All Ye Faithful” with a prelude filled with the aura of a fanfare.

– And the closing “Frosty the Snowman” with Mike Forbes’ added chant for the brass to holler in unison as drummer drums.

If you need a little Christmas with the zest of brass right this very moment, you got it.

The listening is free with donations accepted.


Program: “Sheboygan Symphony Holiday Brass Concert”

Part I

+ “O Come All Ye Faithful” – Traditional, arranged by Roger Harvey

+ “Russian Christmas Music” – Alfred Reed, arranged by Mike Forbes

+ “The First Noel” – Traditional, arranged by Mike Forbes

+ “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” – Traditional, arranged by Mike Forbes

+ “Fum Fum Fum” – Traditional, arranged by Roger Harvey

+ “Festive Cheer” – Traditional, arranged by Roger Harvey

   Medley includes “Sleigh Ride,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,”

   and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

Part II

+ “Twelve Days of Christmas” – Frederic Austin, arranged by Mike Forbes

+ “We Need a Little Christmas” – Jerry Herman, arranged by Mike Forbes

+ “Christmastime is Here” – Vince Guaraldi, arranged by Mike Forbes

+ “Bugler’s Holiday” – Leroy Anderson, arranged by Mike Forbes

+ “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” – Traditional, arranged by Roger Harvey

+ “Mele Kalikimaka” – R. Alex Anderson, arranged by Mike Forbes

+ “Santa Baby” – Joan Javits and Phillip Springer, arranged by Anthony Cooperwood

+ “Frosty the Snowman” – Walter “Jack” Rollins, arranged by Mike Forbes

Encore (but cut off)

+ “The Christmas Song” – Mel Tormé

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