SPRING HILL — Believing that Christmas is a time for giving, two local churches will celebrate the holiday by offering exceptional concerts as a gift to the community.
Northcliffe Baptist Church will present concerts at 7 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Sunday. First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill will offer concerts at 4 and 7 p.m. Sunday. All concerts will include both secular and sacred Christmas music.
"I am really excited about the performances of our 'Christmas Spectacular' because our focus has been on more than celebrating with just our people," said Aaron Odom, worship leader at Northcliffe Baptist. "For this event, we have focused on helping remind our people and those who may come from outside the (church family) to understand the real meaning of Christmas and to help them express their hearts as a response to that."
The Northcliffe concert will feature the church's newly formed 30-piece orchestra, the Hernando Harmonizers barbershop chorus, a 60-voice choir, handbell ringers and the Northcliffe Blacklight Team.
Odom says the 1-hour, 20-minute concert will be "spectacular" because of the level of talent in the groups.
"The music is going to be big and beautiful," he said. "The diversity of the night will also be a thrill of a ride."
There will be an eclectic selection of classics, fun novelty pieces and fresh arrangements of inspirational choral/orchestral ballads.
Songs include Christmas Angels, White Christmas, Wexford Carol and a funny piano duet called Christmas Chopsticks, as well as traditional carols and numbers by special ensembles. Odom, who was classically trained, will sing a duet with his sister, Rebecca Rossi.
"There will be close to 150 people involved in this presentation in some way," Odom said. "People can expect this to be the best musical presentation Northcliffe has ever put on."
Odom hopes Northcliffe's "Christmas Spectacular" will become a fixture in Spring Hill.
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Lyric soprano Ebony Preston will be the featured artist at the "Christmas at Spring Hill" concerts at First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill.
The award-winning vocalist has toured Europe the last several years as the lead in Porgy and Bess, has performed as guest artist in several opera houses in the United States and abroad since 2005, and was the headliner at the International Jazz Festival in Colombia, South America.
Recently, Preston was a scholarship recipient of the American Institute of Musical Studies Summer Apprentice Program in Graz, Austria, where she participated in a number of concerts and recitals. She was a regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a national finalist in the Rose Palmai-Tenser Vocal Competition and grand prize winner for both Opera Birmingham and the National Orpheus Competition.
Preston will present a variety of music, doing some classical pieces along with light jazz, gospel and some pop.
"I am very pleased Ebony will be able to be here," said Robert McBain, the church's new minister of music, who will be conducting the Florida Symphony Brass for the concerts. "I've worked with her many times over the years. She is very impressive."
Each concert will be about 75 minutes and also will feature Sean Pollock and Ashley McCall on pianos. The church's 80-voice choir and handbell ringers will perform under McBain's direction as well.
The Rev. Michael Oliver, the church's lead pastor, said offering the concerts as a gift to the community is the church's method of sharing God's love in a practical way. It also fits with the church's vision: Making God's Love Real.
"Our congregation is truly looking forward to opening the doors of our hearts as well as the doors of our sanctuary as we welcome people from the community to share in this gift of the Christ child this Christmas season," Oliver said.
Child care will be provided, and the dress code for the concerts is "Christmas casual."
"People are encouraged to come as they are," McBain said. "There will also be opportunities for the audience to sing carols. It will be an exciting program."