FARGO — Holiday concerts are usually a secondary concern for the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra. In the average year, the Masterworks series of five concerts takes planning priority, and the smaller, seasonal shows come after.
Of course, 2020 is no average year, so this holiday, the FMSO is getting a little more festive.
The organization is streaming a collection of videos by small ensembles of members and friends performing seasonal tunes. The Home for the Holidays concert is available on the FMSO homepage through Jan. 3.
This calendar year, three Masterworks concerts were canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Of the remaining two, only one hosted a live audience, with the other being recorded in an empty concert hall by a scaled-back orchestra.
Losing a live audience and also the opportunity to play in person with other musicians has been tough for FMSO members.
“This layoff has been brutal,” says principal trombonist Nat Dickey. “It’s more about the loss of connection to one another and the community. It’s why we do what we do.”
For 10 years, Dickey has organized the Holiday Brass concerts, an annual show that has grown so popular, it sold out the last five years.
Dickey helped organize this year’s show, with video and editing help from Russell Peterson, FMSO's principal bassoonist, saxophonist and “the engine behind anything creative,” as Dickey says.
This show is quite different than previous holiday concerts, as it features a variety of groups. Still, larger ensembles had to be pared down for safe social distancing.
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The brass section is a quintet, down from the full 18 members normally. Dickey, trumpeters Tom Strait and Jeremy Brekke, tubist Doug Neil, and Karin Wakefield on horn were recorded at Trinity Lutheran Church.
“This really blossomed into something so rewarding for us. It’s a chance for us musicians that play in the back row of the symphony to move to the front row,” Dickey says.
More than just getting a chance to showcase their chops, he says the most important part is just playing together again, even in a smaller group.
“It’s huge for a musician,” he says.
“Musicians like to do what they do, play music together. Musicians are itching to do this. They want to play and audiences want to hear them,” says Paul Hegland, executive director of FMSO.
“I’m grateful to share music,” says principal violinist, Sonja Bosca-Harasim. “Even if we can’t share a stage, I’m looking forward to sharing these performances.”
The concertmaster and her husband, pianist Ryan Bosca-Harasim, recorded “Fantasia on Greensleeves” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a favorite composer of the couple, in their Fargo home.
“I really have missed connecting with the audience. I enjoy after concerts, talking to the audience,” Sonja Bosca-Harasim says.
Hegland says that interaction between musicians and the audience is part of what makes music such a unique expression.
“Music is the most powerful of the arts,” he says, acknowledging that those in other artistic formats will disagree. “It lends itself to group experiences. When audiences and musicians don't get that, something is missing. We’re missing some elements of culture now.”
He says that loss is underscored this holiday season with so many traditional shows being canceled.
“When you think of Christmas, aside from the presents and the parties, there’s a tradition of music like ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Messiah.’ Those are so deeply embedded in our culture,” he says. “When you walk out of seeing ‘The Nutcracker,’ you may not be dancing, but you’re probably humming the music.”
Hegland says the $25 fee to view the video really only helps offset production costs and helps pay musicians.
“This won’t make or break our finances. It will help a little, and every little bit helps,” he says.
More than financial reward, Dickey says the value is in playing and hearing music at a special time of the year.
“It occupies a nice place in people’s holiday,” he says. “It’s a balm for the community.”
If you go
What: FMSO Home for the Holidays
When: streaming online through Jan. 3
Info: $25 for limitless views