Places to go during Advent and Christmas — recommendations by Peter Menkin

draw to a close, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Uncle Drosselmeyer grant Clara her greatest Christmas wish and transform her into a beautiful woman to dance in the arms of her Prince. It is Christmas morning. Clara awakens, the nutcracker safe in her arms. SF Ballet (Courtesy of San Francisco Ballet).   



Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco Bach Choir 

   The San Francisco Bach Choir website offers this welcome: Welcome the season with our traditional blend of charming carols and majestic works from early German masters Michael Praetorius and Heinrich Schütz. Multiple choirs will surround you with glorious music—both ancient and familiar—and brighten the winter darkness with candlelight, processions and joyful singing. Invite your friends and order early! with Erica Schuller, soprano Saturday, December 5, 8PM / Sunday, December 6, 4PM
Calvery Presbyterian Church,  Fillmore & Jackson, SF

Sharon Gustavson of the San Francisco Bach Choir, calls this an evening of “majestic music.” She states the defining element of the choir’s work this way,and in so doing emphasizes how specific this evening is to the kind of music San Francisco Bach Choir performs:  “This is our niche work.” She adds, “This is one of our traditional concerts.”

    Grace Cathedral Christmas  

Grace Cathedral announces on their website: “Bring the whole family for a merry sing-along at Grace Cathedral! Join the festive Pacific Boychoir in singing your favorite carols of the holiday season. There will also be a special surprise guest in red velvet!”   Spokeswoman for Grace Cathedral tells, Pacific Boychoir played at last year’s Family sing-along.   So the ensemble is back after 2008, and the Spokeswoman adds, “The event sold out in 2008, so we added a second show in 2009, on Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. I did not take an audience poll, so can’t say for sure whether the choir made it a hit or what the favorite song was. I suspect it was the format of the event that made it successful – it is one-hour in length; it features songs that everyone knows at least the first verse to (& printed lyrics are provided for all songs & verses); and it starts at the family-friendly time of 11 a.m. (before kids’ afternoon naps).”

This quote on the Boychoir:   Based in Oakland, the Pacific Boychoir participates in a very old tradition, as boychoirs have been around for hundreds of years, dating back at least to the fourth century. The chorus was formed in 1998 with 6 boys, and it now includes more than 100 singers from ages 7 to 17. The Pacific Boychoir’s reputation for excellence has earned performances with the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the UC Berkeley and Davis Symphonies, American Bach Soloists, and many others.

Dates and Times
Saturday, December 12, 11:00 am
Saturday, December 19, 11:00 am  


  St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley, California Bach Society 

Be sure to arrive early to get a good seat, so it is recommended by one Church member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley, who has attended the California Bach Society event.   This year’s event will take place at the Church on December 6, 2009 at 4 p.m, located at 2300 Bancroft Way (at Ellsworth), Berkeley. (Doors open 30 minutes prior to each performance.)   Wieneke Gorter Spokeswoman for the Society reports, “St. Mark’s is a pretty church with absolutely wonderful acoustics. We love performing in there. Our concerts at this church attract music lovers of every age and background, but especially people who are interested in choral music and/or early music.”     . The Bach Society website says of the program:   The California Bach Society welcomes the holidays with a program from 17th century Northern Germany.Performed in the order prescribed for Advent Vespers, the 30-voice chamber choir will present a richly varied program of intricate polyphony, hymns, and splendid double choruses. Artistic Director Paul Flight explains: The beauty of this program lies in the contrast between the simple and the complex. On the one hand, we will sing a number of well-known Lutheran hymns. By contrast, the majority of the pieces we will perform are elaborately worked out renditions of these hymn tunes. One can only marvel at the skills of the North German composers, Schütz, Schein, Scheidt, and Praetorius, as they develop every musical possibility inherent in the tune.”   A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols Also coming up at St. Mark’s, Berkeley is a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Sunday, December 20, 2009, 4:30 p.m.   This service was originally instituted at Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, England, based on a medieval vigil service.  It was modified in the early twentieth century by the Very Rev. E.M. Millner-White, dean of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England.    Since then, it has been sung annually in King’s College Chapel on Christmas Eve, and here at St. Mark’s since 1942. The service opens with the traditional carol “Once in royal David’s city,” a bidding prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer.    The story continues with the promise to Abraham, the assurance of the prophet Isaiah, the calling of Mary, the birth of Jesus, and ends with St. John’s unfolding of the great mystery of the Incarnation.  Carols, familiar and unfamiliar, are sung throughout the service. The service is held in candlelight and a festive reception follows in Hodgkin Hall.        Kosher Comedy at Christmas in San Francisco   The official press release says of Kung Pao Christmas event, and here it is in part:   Come celebrate Christmas the Jewish Way—in a Chinese restaurant with Jewish comedy. Now celebrating its 17th year, Kung Pao Kosher Comedy continues to provide an answer to the age-old question, “What are Jews supposed to do on Christmas?” What started out as a joke by San Francisco-based Jewish stand-up comic, Lisa Geduldig, has become an institution in San Francisco annually giving 3000 comedy aficionados and those escaping “Christmas-mania” an alternative to Jingle Bells. It’s the Bar Mitzvah you never had—and you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it.   Kung Pao Kosher Comedy™ was created in 1993 by accident by comedian Lisa Geduldig, who went to perform outside Northampton, Massachusetts at what she thought was going to be a comedy club. She arrived only to discover that The Peking Garden Club was actually a Chinese Restaurant, not a comedy club. Her ironic experience of telling Jewish jokes at a Chinese restaurant led to the idea behind and creation of Kung Pao.   The event began as a community service for Jews who have been stuck on Christmas with nothing to do but hide under the covers or go to a Chinese restaurant. The audience has expanded to include Chinese-Jewish couples, interfaith ones, singles, families, gays, straights, those far from home, and generally those who not only are seeking an alternative to Christmas alienation but who also like comedy mixed with Chinese food. One of Kung Pao’s claims to fame is that Henny Youngman performed his last shows there, in 1997.     Celebrate Christmas with Chinese food and Jewish comedy. So the website of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy offers. The dates for performance are December 24 through the 27, 2009.    

Two of the comedians commented for this writer via email:   Brian Malow was asked:

Why are you doing this at Christmas time?

Well, I’m not a Christian nor have I ever been so you won’t find me celebrating Christmas in any sort of traditional manner (for example, frantic last-minute guilt-inspired shopping sprees).  I am Jewish.  What’s a Jew to do on Christmas?  If there’s not a new Woody Allen movie playing in theaters, what better or more appropriate way to celebrate the season than with copious amounts of Chinese food and Jewish comedy? Plus, I’ve never worked with Jonathan Katz so I’m really looking forward to it!  


Hilary Schwartz was asked:   Why are you doing this at Christmas time?

I’m doing this at Christmas time because my Christian friends asked me to
make other plans. Anyhow, who else but a Jew would work on Christmas?      

Images: (1) Outside Calvary Presbyterian Church Photos of Calvary courtesy of Calvary Presbyterian Church; (2) Official poster San Francisco Theological Seminary Lessons & Carols. Picture courtesy San Francisco Theological Seminary. (3) Doctor. Daniel Hoggatt. (4) Group dancers Vanessa Zahorian in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. © Erik Tomasson. (5) Mouse San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. © Erik Tomasson. (6) Sanctuary Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco. (7) Paul Flight, Courtesy California Bach Society. (8) St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Choir. (9) Lisa Geduldig of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, Kent Taylor Photography (10) Comedian Brian Malow. (11) Comedian Hilary Schwartz.

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA (north of San Francisco).

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