It was four years ago when Anthony Maiello, associate director of development and a professor of music with George Mason University’s School of Music, wanted to create an orchestra that played more than just the classical music that everyone was used to.
“I have played classical my whole life, but I also love pop and jazz, and I was looking for something that would allow me to work with more movie compositions,” he said. “Look at someone like John Williams (“Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark”); to me, he is like today’s Beethoven.”
Maiello gathered about 65 professional musicians from the greater Washington, D.C. area, consisting of those from United States military ensembles, regional symphonies, George Mason University music faculty and a select number of students from George Mason University’s School of Music.
Ever since, the American Festival Pops Orchestra has delighted audiences throughout Northern Virginia with its lively interpretations of classic pops music.
“I’m really fortunate. The people in the orchestra are phenomenal musicians and great people, and we all have a lot of fun,” he said. “I want them to enjoy themselves, because when they enjoy it, the audience enjoys it.”
On Saturday, the AFPO will bring an orchestra-size helping of Christmas cheer to George Mason University’s Center for the Arts with its fourth annual “Holiday Pops: Songs of the Season” concert.
“It’s going to be a really fun concert,” Maiello said. “I’m very excited about this year’s event because it’s going to be a potpourri of holiday happenings.”
A group of three female singers from the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters will perform several holiday classics, including a hopping version of “Boogie Woogie Christmas” in the tradition of the Andrews Sisters.
There will also be a jazz version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” arranged by Rick Lillard.
“Of course, that’s all in addition to some nice traditional music as well,” Maiello said. “We’ll be playing “Christmas Festival,” “Sleigh Ride,” “White Christmas” and many others.”
A special surprise will see Maiello join colleague Linda Monson in a special accordion arrangement of “Skeeter’s Waltz.”
“We’re going to have a lot of fun with that. I don’t play on the accordion on a regular basis anymore but I used to play when I was young,” Maiello said. “I only play for my family now but I want the audience to feel like they are my family, watching along in their living rooms.”
Rick Davis, the executive director of the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, will serve as narrator for “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and children will be invited to join him on stage to set the mood of the story.
The concert will conclude with an audience-wide sing-along with the orchestra playing some of the most beloved Christmas classics, a favorite part of the night for Maiello and the orchestra members.
“I like to have the audience involved. Today’s audiences come to participate, it’s not just about sitting and listening the way it was 10-20 years ago,” the conductor said. “They want to be part of the event. I like to involve them so everyone has a good time. If they wind up dancing in the aisles, it’s ok with me.”
A pre-performance discussion, free to ticketholders, will begin 45 minutes prior to the performance on the Center’s Grand Tier III and is sponsored by the Friends of the Center for the Arts.
The AFPO will also perform its “Holiday Pops: Songs of the Season” at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas at 8 p.m. Friday. A pre-performance discussion will begin 45 minutes prior to the performance in the Hylton Center’s Buchanan Partners Art Gallery.