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Annual Christmas concerts offer new twists on classics

Clarion Brass elevates holiday favorites

The Clarion Brass “Reindeer Games” tour wowed ’em in Portland, Seattle and Yakima.

And now it’s coming home to Spokane, where audiences will have two chances to hear, for instance, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and other kids’ favorites arranged in the manner of Hollywood adventure movie music.

That’s just one of the many imaginative takes that Clarion puts on the Christmas classics. This group, under the artistic direction of trumpeter/composer/arranger William Berry, has been known to do an entire seven-movement parody of “The Nutcracker,” complete with the Chinese Dance converted into “Tea for Tuba.”

Clarion has long been known for being fun and outrageous, as well as inspired and virtuosic. In this year’s concert, they will unleash a new version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” arranged for African percussion.

And then there’s that Hollywood thriller medley. Berry calls it an “action-packed escapade, complete with blazing trumpets and soaring horns.”

This year, the rest of the Northwest had a chance to hear this Spokane group’s annual Christmas concert first.

Clarion embarked on its tour earlier this month, including a show at Town Hall Seattle. Berry reported back that they drew good, strong, appreciative audiences.

Apparently, word has spread through the group’s CDs and through Berry’s arrangements, which have been performed by the Canadian Brass, the New York Philharmonic’s brass section and the Seattle Symphony.

In Spokane, Clarion has been a known quantity for 19 years. Two shows at St. John’s Cathedral, on Tuesday and Wednesday, are required to meet the demand.

The show will include Clarion’s version of “Jingle Bells,” which Berry once called “the wildest ‘Jingle Bells’ you will ever survive.”

It will also include their version of “Partridge in a Pear Tree,” which he said “is served in a sauce of classical quotes, with numerological references for each of the 12 days.”

Yet there is also plenty of serious stuff for what Berry calls the “hair-shirt crowd.” Featured soloists will include trombonist Kirk Ferguson on “Merry Christmas Darling,” French hornist Jennifer Scriggins Brummett on “Lullay, My Liking,” flugelhornist Andy Plamondon on “What Child Is This?” and tuba player Leonard Byrne on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

By the way, last year’s concert featured what Berry termed the “First and Last Ever Clarion Holiday Sing-Along.”

Forget about that “last” part.

Because this year, Clarion will bring out another “First And Last Ever Clarion Holiday Sing-Along,” although Berry coyly adds that he is “not at liberty to reveal what actually happens.”