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An Atlanta Tradition: Christmas with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

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by KC Commander, Content Manager – Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
The holidays will be here before you know it and we are looking forward to the annual Atlanta tradition of “Christmas with the ASO.” What some might not know is its illustrious performance history, with seeds planted as far back as the 1940s. The concert that we know today — choral and orchestral arrangements of Christmas carols, stories, and a visit from Santa — is the result of decades of recordings, performances, and musical collaborations produced by the Symphony’s former music director, Robert Shaw.
In its current form, the “Christmas with the ASO” concert has been around since the 1970s, but its history goes as far back as the 1940s just after WWII when Robert Shaw, in collaboration with composer and conductor Alice Parker, arranged a multicultural collection of carols and hymns for unaccompanied chorus.
It was around this time that CBS Radio broadcast a national 90-minute program of the works called “Christmas with Robert Shaw.” The collection of carols, choral works, light Christmas pops and sing-alongs set the stage for longstanding collaborations between the Orchestra, the Gwinnett Young Singers, Morehouse College Glee Club, Atlanta Boys’ Choir and the Spelman College Glee Club, more than 20 years later.

A performance in Atlanta Symphony Hall, c. 1995. Pictured: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Robert Shaw, Atlanta Boy Choir, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and Morehouse College Glee Club

Under Shaw’s leadership, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses received 18 GRAMMY® awards. Shaw was appointed to the National Council on the Arts by President Jimmy Carter and was recognized with a host of honors following his retirement, including the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors and induction into the Georgia Music and American Classical Music Halls of Fame.
 
Photos courtesy Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

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