The Rapidian

Grand Rapids Symphony's Holiday Pops are homegrown fun for a hometown audience

Grand Rapids Symphony's Wolverine Worldwide Pops, a holiday tradition in West Michigan, celebrates the season in song with local artists and entertainers performing for a hometown audience.
Santa Claus himself is expected to pay a visit to the Grand Rapids Symphony's Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops.

Santa Claus himself is expected to pay a visit to the Grand Rapids Symphony's Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops. /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

Underwriting support from:

Grand Rapids Symphony's Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 15-16.

Matinees will be at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16-17

DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW.

Tickets start at $18 adults. Call the Grand Rapids Symphony at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or go online to GRSymphony.org

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Baritone Leon Williams returns to DeVos Performance Hall for the Grand Rapids Pops.

Baritone Leon Williams returns to DeVos Performance Hall for the Grand Rapids Pops. /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt leads the Grand Rapids Symphony's Wolverine World Wide Holiday Pops.

Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt leads the Grand Rapids Symphony's Wolverine World Wide Holiday Pops. /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

If you love Christmas, you love Christmas carols, sung by a choir.

Join the Grand Rapids Pops for its Wolverine World Wide Holiday Pops, and you get to hear not one but two choirs sing Christmas music.

What’s more, you get to sing along too.

The Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops, a West Michigan holiday tradition, returns for five concerts opening this Thursday in DeVos Performance Hall.

Five shows through Sunday, Dec. 17, draw entire families from children to parents, grandparents and great-grandparents for holiday cheer led by Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, leading the Grand Rapids Pops in such favorites as Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” and highlights from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

What’s more, it’s home-grown entertainment for a hometown audience. Nearly every musician on stage is part of the Grand Rapids Symphony family or part of the West Michigan community.

The adult Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, conducted by Pearl Shangkuan, joins the orchestra to sing G.F. Handel’s “Hallelujah” Chorus from The Messiah, but that’s not all.

Bernhardt will conduct two of his all-time favorite holiday works for chorus and orchestra, Randol Bass’ “Gloria,” and John Rutter’s, “What Sweeter Music,” both near the top of the show.

“The biggest reason is the chance to do them with our wonderful Symphony Chorus,” Bernhardt said. “Pearl does magic with them, and I get to go along for that wonderful ride!”

The longtime guest conductor for the Boston Pops first conducted Bass’s “Gloria” with the venerable Boston Pops, without rehearsal, as a last-minute substitute for its then-music director Keith Lockhart.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience, so the piece is meaningful for the experience alone,” Bernhardt said. “However, Randol Bass has written a ‘Gloria’ that is contemporary in feel, yet traditional in message and joyous in expression. He writes beautifully for the orchestra, and it’s a fantastic concert opener. I really love it.”

The Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus, directed by Sean Ivory, will be featured on John Rutter’s “Star Carol,” and both adult and youth choruses will sing music from the 1990 movie Home Alone with the orchestra.

Embellish handbell ensemble, directed by Stephanie Wiltse, will join the Symphony Chorus on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and will perform a virtuoso Change Ring Prelude on ‘Divinum Mysterium’ by Fred Gramann on a battery of handbells and chimes.

Just one out-of-town guest appears at this year’s Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops. But he’s hardly a newcomer to the Grand Rapids Symphony stage. In fact, he’s made seven past appearances with the Grand Rapids Symphony for classical and pops concerts alike.

Singer Leon Williams, in his third Holiday Pops concert, joins the Grand Rapids Pops to sing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” in DeVos Performance Hall, which will be decked with boughs of holly for the Christmas season.

Student tickets are available for concerts on Thursday, Dec. 14 and for the matinee on Saturday, Dec. 16 for just $5. Full-time students of any age are able to purchase tickets for those two events on the night of the concert by enrolling in the GRS Student Tickets program.

Families with children are invited to the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Holiday Pops Spectacular on Saturday, Dec. 16, just before the 3 p.m. matinee concert. Beginning at 1:30 p.m., children can enjoy festive treats, arts and crafts, games, and much more leading up to the concert at 3p.m.

Tickets for the Holiday Pops Spectacular plus the Holiday Pops start at $20. 

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