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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: December 17, 2014

25th ‘Christmas with Cornils’ offers something new & different at the end of the holiday concert season

Written by: Bob Keyes
Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

More than likely, it’s the air pushing through the organ pipes. But each year, municipal organist Ray Cornils thinks he hears a collective sigh from the audience when he performs his annual “Christmas with Cornils” holiday concert at Merrill Auditorium.

The municipal organist has the lucky draw of playing the final concert of a busy holiday season. Everybody seems more relaxed, less hurried and ready for the big day.

“The preparations are done. The Christmas parties are over. The shopping has been taken care of. We’re in the home stretch,” Cornils said. “You can turn the corner and see Christmas. The word for me is authentic. It’s no longer about the whole crescendo of activity that we get caught up in through December.”

Cornils performs on the Kotzschmar Organ at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday with the Kotzschmar Festival Brass, the Parish Ringers and Musica de Filia.

In all, the concert features about 60 performers.

This marks his 25th “Christmas with Cornils” holiday concert, and the first since the renovation of the century-old Kotzschmar Organ. The organ was returned to service this fall after a two-year renovation.

The new-found dexterity of the instrument colored Cornils’ programming choices this year. “Some of the pieces I’ve chosen engage the listener not with bombast, but with quiet and a great deal of beauty,” he said. “I chose work with color so I can bring that color out.”

With this year’s program, he attempts to tell the Christmas story with a variety of music. Some was written in the 11th century. Other pieces were written within the past decade.

This year, the program that Cornils put together also includes the Hanukkah story.

“There is a spirit of inquisitiveness that I have,” he said. “I want to find something new, a little different and something my colleagues won’t have heard before.”

That said, much of the music will be familiar: “Joy to the World,” performed with the Kotzschmar Festival Brass; Benjamin Britten’s “This Little Child” and “Silver Bells” with the Parish Ringers.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo


The show closes with an audience sing-along with “The First Noel,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Silent Night” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

Cornils doesn’t dictate the program. He talks to other musicians, and seeks ideas from Musica de Filia director Jaye Churchill.

He hopes the program reflects not only the range of the Christmas story, but the will and wants of the musical community that participates.

For Betty Rines, who plays trumpet with the brass ensemble, “Christmas with Cornils” caps a busy month of concerts. She performs “Magic of Christmas” with the Portland Symphony, “The Nutcracker” with Portland Ballet and many church services.

“Ray’s concert is very special,” Rines said. “His programming is masterful, and the (renovated) organ shows off well with Ray at the helm. It’s a special audience, as well, a mix of young and old and in-between,” she said. “My favorite moment is the audience singing ‘Silent Night’ – no accompaniment, just voices joined together. It makes me understand the Christmas spirit even more.”

Seamus Gethicker, at 15-year-old from Bath, volunteers as a docent for the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ. He first heard the organ at a “Magic of Christmas” concert, and “was hooked.”

“I like this concert because there is something for everybody. Being able to hear the many sounds of the organ, brass, choir and bell ringers all in one evening is a wonderful experience,” Gethicker said.

“It is a festive, glorious and magical evening.”

“Christmas with Cornils”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
TICKETS: $23, $34 and $39 through Merrill box office and PortTix; 842-0800 or

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