Growing up, singer Diane Penning recalls two experiences that made the excitement of the holidays come alive in her house: The arrival of the Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog, and listening to holiday records like the Firestone Tires Longines Symphonette albums.
The holidays remain a favorite time of year for Penning, who enjoys singing classic carols and sacred hymns, and regularly performs with symphonies around the country. She is staying close to home this year as featured soloist for Holland Symphony Orchestra’s Sounds of the Season concert.
“I tend to be an eclectic singer — crossing over from classical to pops — so holiday concerts are right up my alley and really fun for me,” she said. “The holiday favorites that we perform connect us with memories of loved ones and with each other like only music can.”
The local soprano star is a Grand Rapids native who now lives in Grand Haven. She fondly remembers her family celebrating the season with the Firestone records and more mainstream albums by Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand and Julie Andrews.
“I think I truly fell in love with all kinds of music — classical and popular — listening to these records as a little girl,” she said. “They were so good. These records had these beautiful choral pieces with orchestra, more sacred holiday music but very often classical.”
Led by Music Director Johannes Müller Stosch, the Dec. 8 holiday concert covers light seasonal classics, traditional carols and a variety of symphonic holiday pops. The concert opens with the charming Parade of the Wooden Soldiers by Leon Jessel.
“It is always a family and community favorite; this traditional concert held in the beauty of the space at Dimnent Chapel as well as the musical holiday favorites, carols and of course a sing-a-long,” said Kay Walvoord, HSO president and CEO.
Penning joins in on vocals for Nicholas Palmer’s arrangement of Ave Maria, Mel Torme’s Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Irving Berlin’s classic White Christmas, and Adolphe Adam’s iconic O Holy Night, among others.
One of her favorites is the spiritual acapella Sweet Little Jesus Boy, which she performs with no musical accompaniment. She said she fell in love with it as a 13-year-old, after hearing it on Andy Williams’ Christmas album.
Stosch also asked her to sing a “stunningly gorgeous” Swedish song, Jul, jul, strålande jul by Gustav Nordqvist.
Along with these vocal works, the program features other winter-inspired repertoire including movements from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, and Silvestri’s Polar Express Concert Suite among others.
Penning previously performed with the HSO in two summer pops shows and always looks forward to the uplifting feel of holiday concerts. There’s seasonal décor, plus children in the audience and festive songs that people know and love — it’s all part of the fun.
“Every time I go do a holiday concert with a new community, it’s like I am being invited to their Christmas dinner,” she said. “It’s really special. Christmas pops concerts are so rife with memories and emotions and a real feeling of excitement.”
Penning has an impressive resume that includes appearances with more than 30 orchestras, many musical theater and opera credits, and multiple professional recordings. She is an adjunct voice instructor for Hope College, so it’s also a treat to sing in the chapel there.
“I hope that hearing these holiday favorites will be like the excitement of opening a whole bunch of wonderful presents,” she said. “I am so looking forward to joining Johannes, the Holland Symphony orchestra and the audience for this joyful and heartwarming concert.”
Sounds of the Season
Holland Symphony Orchestra
Dimnent Chapel, Hope College
277 College Ave., Holland
Dec. 8, 3:30 & 7:30 p.m., $22 adults
hollandsymphony.org, (616) 796-6780