Stay Merry with Music

Photo by Natalie Armstrong

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything. Plato

What makes you feel joyous, light hearted, and merry through end-of-year holidays and winters dark days? You can ask my husband and hell confirm I cannot contain my excitement and anticipation during the opening bars of the Overture to The Nutcracker ballet by Tchaikovsky. The original story by Hoffmann is somewhat dark, but the ballet exudes holiday festive spirit.

For many, attending The Nutcracker ballet has become a holiday tradition, or more. Ive started a quest to see as many productions of The Nutcracker as possible. Last year, we went to the Milwaukee ballet. We arrived at the Marcus Center just as heavy snowflakes started to fall. Enjoying our glasses of wine, surrounded by the small white lights and decorations inside, we watched the snowa precursor of the magic to come!

A partial list of The Nutcracker productions in the Madison area.

Great Russian Nutcracker
Moscow Ballet production
November 26 in Eau Claire and December 1 in Milwaukee.

The Nutcracker
Madison Ballet production
December 9 26.

Nutcracker Ballet
Dance Wisconsin production
December 16 and 17.

The Nutcracker
Milwaukee Ballet production
December 9 26

Valley Academy for the Arts production
November 17 January 9.

Photograph by Becky McKenzie

Its also a time to sing out strong! Personal barriers are knocked down when it comes to holiday singing, even when surrounded by strangers. I remember standing with a group of strangers for the lighting of the town holiday tree. Song sheets were passed around so we could sing carols inspired by the lovely setting. No one cares what you sound like; there is just the comradery of being together, singing, and sharing the moment.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has started Community Hymn Sings in partnership with the Overture Center for the Arts. Bring friends, family, or just yourself to raise joyful noise accompanied by the Overture concert organ. These community sings last about an hour and do not require tickets or reservationsall are welcome. The 2017 carol sing will be held on November 27 with other events to be announced. For more information or other dates, go to or contact the MSO at (608) 257-3734 or .

And if youre too shy to sing, attend a village holiday fair or celebration to enjoy the festive sounds from small groups of singers. Cambridge Classic Christmas ( ) provides a laid back atmosphere for shopping, browsing, and slowing down the pace of the last few weeks of the year. The air will be filled with songs from carolers as well as the Strolling Madrigal Singers. Hayrides, cookies, and kids activities ensure everyone will have a great time. Events are held Friday, December 1, and run through Sunday, December 3, with the tree lighting ceremony on Saturday evening.

Photograph by Jason Anderson, Operations Manager at Cave of the Mounds

For amazing acoustics and a one-of-a-kind experience, take a trip to Cave of the Mounds. Descend into the large north room of the cave for Caroling in the Cave, Friday through Sunday, the first weekend of December. Enjoy holiday music while seated in the candle lit cavern. Your ticket supports a charity chosen by each performing group. If you want to try out the acoustics yourself (who can resist?), sign up for the sing along tours on Sundays during December. And families may enjoy the Jingle and Rock event the second Saturday of December, which features youth performers. Keep your eye on the Cave of the Mounds website for specifics on all of these events ( ).

If you play an instrument, join one of many jam sessions that spring up or organize your own. Open jam sessions for bluegrass are held throughout the year in a variety of locations. A directory of locations and events can be found on the Southern Wisconsin Bluegrass Music Association website ( ).

For a classical experience, MSO offers an opportunity to listen behind the scenes by attending one of the Open Dress Rehearsals. This is a rare opportunity to experience a professional orchestra at work while enjoying a range of music. Once the 20172018 schedule has been set, reservations can be made beginning one month prior to each Dress Rehearsal. Seating is limited. Keep an eye on the website ( ).

Calling all young professionals: Club 201! MSO offers a fantastic evening out just for young professionals. Get your ticket from the Will Call window and enjoy the concert from a block of seats reserved just for Club 201 guests. Then make your way to an after-party at a local venue featuring free hors doeuvres and cash bar. You will be joined by young MSO musicians as well as a possible drop-in appearance by a superstar guest. Cant make the concert? You can also purchase tickets just for the after-party.

Photograph provided by Tim Olson

And for the final event that will bring a smile to your face, Groove and Glide! Yes, you can always have your own personal music while skating, but at Groove and Glide, the city creates the atmosphere by providing lights, fun music, and games. Get a group together or go aloneno registration required. Skates are available, first come, first served, at some locations. Check the Madison City Parks website ( ) for dates and locations.

I hope this sampling of community-based festive musical events inspires you to have some fun this holiday season. In addition to the more traditional homes for performance arts, make sure to check local houses of worship and nonprofits. Stay merry!

Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at .