Phoenix Radio Staff and Other Local Artists Join Together to Provide Hope, Peace and Love to the Community Through Music for the Christmas Season
By Jess Szabo, Arts Writer
photos courtesy of Phoenix Media
Artists are not always included in lists of essential workers, but most of us would not be able to cope without the arts. Anyone who has that special album or playlist that brings back their best memories, or helps get them through these days of increased isolation and uncertainty knows that music does indeed have a strong impact on our emotional health and well-being, as does keeping family and community traditions alive, or starting new ones.
One group of talented local musicians came together over the 2020 Christmas season to collaborate on a special project to bring Christmas music to the community.
“ Hearts at Home: A Covid Christmas Special” aired on December 22, 2020 on WKTV: Channel 5. Cassandra Harris-Lockwood, a local interdisciplinary artist, and the CEO of Phoenix Media and For the Good, Inc began planning the concert while thinking of the losses the community faced this past year.
“As we approached the holiday season, it occurred to me that because of the Covid-19 pandemic there would be no high school Christmas concerts, no college Christmas concerts, no music recitals, no Christmas plays or Christmas pageants. And rightly so, but, with the great success of For The Good’s benefit, Juneteenth: A Time for Love musical, that we, WKTV and our many sponsors provided for our community, I thought we should pursue a major holiday concert to air during these coming cold, dark winter months,” Harris-Lockwood said in an earlier statement. “I have heard from many people how good it was to have that musical on the air while in the midst of the lockdown back in June when days were bright and sunny. Imagine the impact we could have if New York has to lockdown again.”
Harris-Lockwood then felt called to use the resources that her organization and business offer to make her idea a reality.
“For The Good, Inc. and Phoenix Media are in a unique position to bring love and light to the people at this seriously difficult time,” she added. “We have the ability to reach into the community to pull together a diverse and talented group of musicians and we have mastered the use of the medium to bring that comfort and joy to our friends and neighbors through the magic of modern technology.”
And the group she gathered was certainly talented. The show opened with a moving rendition of “O Holy Night,” a solo by Astena Smith. “Born on Christmas Day,” sung by Kristina Howard and the Christmas Children’s Chorale, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” performed by T.K. Howard and the children’s chorale, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” sung by Theresa Mancuso and T.K. Howard,” and a solo performance of “Chesnuts Roasting On On Open Fire” by T.K. Howard added to the traditional Christmas cheer.
With Cassandra Harris-Lockwood on vocals and Kurt Krumme on guitar, “Friendly Beasts” offered a glimpse of Christmas through the eyes of all of the animals surrounding our Lord and Savior on that first Christmas day.
Perhaps the most fun performance of the evening, T.K. Howard and Astena Smith performed “Let It Snow,” in a light, fun, and flirtatious tone, bringing to mind happy couples strolling through the malls and attending parties together before settling in for a cozy night happily stranded alone together in a snowstorm. Their voices painted a picture of happier Christmases of the past, and the kind of Christmas we look forward to again.
Fun and hope were also clear in the group renditon of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Cassandra Harris-Lockwood and Ann Walesman’s “The Little Drummer Boy,” and the closing tune, a soft but soulful solo performance of “What Child Is This?” by Ann Walesman.
Every singer, and the talented group of musicians who played with them, furthered the event’s mission of bringing hope, peace, and love to the community through music. But one performance stood out as a special gift to the community.
Theresa Mancuso’s vocals on “Ave Maria” were nothing short of stunning. You do not hear a lot of singers who can sing pop music one minute, and then give a performance that makes you picture them onstage at the Metropolitan Opera the next, but Theresa Mancuso is one of the rare ones who can.
Those who may have missed the concert on its original air date, and fans who would like to see it again, may have the opportunity soon. Keep checking the Utica Phoenix online, and the Facebook pages of the Utica Phoenix and Phoenix Radio for more information.