SCHENECTADY Melodies of Christmas opens today at Proctors for its annual four-show run. For the thousands who have attended the live performances over its 33-year history or viewed it later on television on CBS-6, Melodies has come to be a familiar guest at the holidays. But for some, the show is a springboard to possible fame and fortune.
chance to make it
“We’re doing two songs: ‘Santa Baby’ and ‘Mary Don’t You Weep,’ ” said Rick Bolton of Big Medicine, a local band that is making its debut. “We get seven minutes to make an impression — seven minutes to make it big.”
Bolton, who plays guitar and sings in the six-member band, said the group does everything from rock and country to swing, reggae, Irish, folk and originals.
Melodies of Christmas
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7 p.m. today through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org.
The show will be broadcast several times. On WRBG it will air: 7 p.m. Christmas Eve; and 7:30 and 11 a.m., and 12:30 and 5 p.m. on Christmas Day. On CW15 it will air at 10 p.m. Christmas Eve; and 8:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 and 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.
Although the band has been together only six years, its members have played together in other incarnations for almost two decades, he said. But they’ve never played in a huge indoor space like Proctors.
“It’s hard to find a venue to work as a large group,” Bolton said. “This will be our first time at Proctors. We’re so psyched. And that we’re doing four days of performing with TV coverage — we’re used to one-night stands. It’s huge.”
Big Medicine is only one of the many acts that will entertain in a holiday extravaganza that has come to be known as kids helping kids, said Lisa Jackson, the show’s executive producer. That’s because the funds generated all go to the Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center.
“Conservative projections are currently at $6.5 million to date,” Jackson said.
That’s about $270,000 average each year, which comes from ticket sales and a promotion that Freihofer Baking Co. and Price Chopper run each year in which 5 cents of every Freihofer product, which Price Chopper sells, goes to Melodies, she said.
The funds go toward areas that insurance companies don’t usually pay for. These include creating a nurturing environment through toys, books, arts and crafts and an aquarium for the more than 900 children who come from a 25-county radius, and are involved in hours-long chemotherapy treatments. Funds also provide salaries for social workers or child specialists who work with the children and their families, according to Rich Becker, a development communication manager.
This end result might be very successful, but getting the show on stage is just as huge an endeavor. There are almost 65 people among the CBS 6 staff, stage crew, union crew, Proctors crew, volunteers and other companies that set up the show for the live acts and the television production, who will later tear it all down, Jackson said.
Then, there are the performers. The Empire State Youth Orchestra under music director Helen Cha-Pyo numbers more than 100 musicians this year and will be responsible for providing not only support for the dancers of Northeast Ballet and Orlando School of Dance, but also the 70-voice Melodies of Christmas Chorale, which will sing 10 songs.
“They’ll be difficult arrangements,” said Rae Jean Teeter, the chorale’s new director. “They are used to singing them in unison but these are in four-part harmony.”
Another factor that proved tricky at first is that most of the singers, who all had to audition, had never sung together before. They come from all over the Capital Region from South Glens Falls to Chatham and Johnstown, from public and private schools.
“They’re the best of the best,” Teeter said. “Initially, they had to find a way within the ensemble to not lead but to be part of the group. There had to be no jockeying for leadership. It had to be more a trust . . . like a sports team.”
After the chorus did six rehearsals without the orchestra, Teeter said she knew all would be well.
“It’s great to see the kids connect with each other. It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “I’m confident.”
In between the various chorus numbers and dance companies, Martha Gallagher will play alone on her Celtic harp with the orchestra and chorus sitting quietly.
“I think they take the lights down behind me,” she said with a laugh.
Gallagher, who was featured at “Melodies” about 10 years ago, will perform two originals: “For the Love of a Baby” and “Christmas Morning” from her Christmas album. Her instrument, which is about 5 feet tall and produces a wonderfully bright sound, is older than the modern-day harp.
“That’s the baby,” she said. “The Celtic harp is its great-great grandmother.”
Big living room
With all those people in front of her in the audience and that many more behind her onstage, Gallagher said her job is simpler than one might imagine.
“Proctors is like a great big beautiful living room and I will have to make it seem intimate,” she said.
Helping move the program along will be the more than 100 “critters” or walk-abouts created by The Costumer that the Scotia/Glenville Girl Scouts Troop 207 will be wearing, and the show’s hosts: Liz Bishop and Greg Floyd. There may also be appearances from Neil Golub, the CEO of Price Chopper, and Bill Sullivan, Freihofer’s director of sales, and some children from the Melodies Center.
“It’s a Christmas pops program with lots of eye candy,”said Jackson, who’s been producing the show since 1995. “When we put this together — we work on it a little all year — it feels like family.”