One: Here We Come A-Caroling
On Thursday, December 9, 1948, the Cleveland Orchestra did not even have to provide the music to spread holiday cheer in Severance Hall. An unexpected blackout dulled applause for the final chords of Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 in E-flat. The blackout was caused by a fire at the Lake Shore plant of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company—no one was injured, but two floors of the plant were damaged. After a few uncertain moments, members of the audience began singing Christmas carols.
For once, the audience serenaded the orchestra, with renditions of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Silent Night,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The concert was supposed to continue with a performance of the Schumann cello concerto and Strauss’s tone poem Don Quixote. When it became clear that power would not be restored, the rest of the concert was cancelled. Ticket stubs were honored at Saturday evening’s performance of the same program.
While holiday music was featured on numerous concerts starting in 1919, the year after the Orchestra’s founding, the first Cleveland Orchestra “Christmas Program” was given on December 22, 1940. Conducted by Robert Ringwall, it was an hour-long mixture of holiday music and audience favorites. These concerts became more or less a yearly tradition, and starting in 1957, they also featured the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, under the direction of Robert Shaw. Have a listen to a few favorites from one of these concerts from 1967:
Three: Deck the Halls
The wreath that graces the front of Severance Hall is itself a piece of history. It is a longstanding tradition to hang a wreath, and the current one has been in use every year since 1969—that’s almost fifty years of bringing us holiday cheer! It doesn’t always look the same—the wreath has been refurbished a couple of times, and this year it boasts new decorative bows. About ten feet in diameter, it weighs so much that four people are needed to carry it out of storage and assemble it.
Here are some snapshots of the wreath-hanging process from 2010:
I took a field trip up to the top of Severance Hall, to the room where the wreath is stored when not in use. Building engineer Scott Miller, who has been hanging the wreath for fifteen years, showed me the original 1931 mechanism for lifting it to its place of prominence:
Looking good, Severance Hall!
Wishing you all a white Christmas!
Sophie Benn is an intern this season with The Cleveland Orchestra Archives. She is a PhD student in Musicology at Case Western Reserve University.
Unless otherwise noted, all audio and photographs courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra Archives.