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Forte: Music for the holidays

The traditions of the holiday season often seem as if they have existed forever, helping to lend a feeling of reassuring stability and predictability to a few weeks each year in what otherwise seems a rapidly changing world.

The Yakima Symphony Orchestra’s annual Holiday Pops Spectacular, featuring the Yakima Symphony Chorus, will delight guests with two performances this weekend - 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.

Each year, YSO invites a local or regional community ensemble to join the orchestra and chorus for the holiday program. This year, the outstanding steel band Bram Bratá returns from the Tri-Cities, giving a Caribbean flair to several traditional holiday selections.

The Holiday Pops Spectacular includes many musical traditions of the season, from a Christmas carol sing-along to the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.” Though today we may take for granted their ability to evoke the imagery and spirit of the holidays, many of them became holiday traditions despite roots outside the season.

This weekend’s program begins with a short suite of music from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Originally scripted as a rather dark story about the disappointments and disillusionment facing small towns in America after World War II, the film was scored by Dimitri Tiomkin, who later won Oscars for scores to “High Noon” (to be performed on a YSO program in late February!) and “The Old Man and the Sea.”

It was only after filming and scoring were complete that the distribution company determined to move the release date from 1947 back to December 1946, and to focus on the more upbeat holiday subplot in an attempt to boost sales.

As Tiomkin’s music reflected the more somber intent of the original screenplay, much of his music was ultimately left out of the film as we know it today. The film bombed at the box office, but over the years since it has become a holiday classic.

A number of familiar holiday songs have been written during summer heat waves, including “The Christmas Song” and “Let It Snow.” A continuing tradition on YSO’s holiday prsgh Ride,” conceived during an August 1946 heat wave in Connecticut. Anderson studied music and languages at Harvard (fluent in nine languages, he served as an interpreter for U.S. Counterintelligence during World War II), arranging and composing for area dance bands until his work came to the attention of Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops.

Written more to paint a seasonal picture than as a holiday piece, “Sleigh Ride” is famous for its musical sound effects, including a whip, horses’ hooves and a “whinny” from the trumpet.

Founded more than 20 years ago, this ensemble of high-school-aged musicians is not to be missed; they play a vast repertoire from memory and have performed throughout the Northwest in addition to tours in California and Hawaii.

• David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. To learn more, visit

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