The first time Sarah Boone experienced the “Magic of Christmas,” she had not been born.
Her mother, violist Ann Stepp, was pregnant with Boone when the Portland Symphony Orchestra presented its first “Magic” holiday concert 33 years ago.
Stepp, who lives in Casco and taught stringed instruments in Portland schools until her retirement this year, has performed as an orchestra member at every “Magic” concert since.
This year, her daughter joins her as a member of the Magic of Christmas Chorus. To top this story off like a perfect star atop the tree, Boone also is pregnant with her first child, a boy due in March.
“It’s kind of neat that I am pregnant with my first baby for my first ‘Magic’ as a performer. It’s a tradition that began with my being in utero with my mother’s first performance,” Boone said.
The concerts began Friday with a pair of previews, and officially open Saturday. They continue through Dec. 22 at Merrill Auditorium with 12 performances.
Stepp did not know her daughter would join her on stage until a dress rehearsal Thursday night. Boone, the orchestra, family and friends have kept her participation a secret since the spring, when Boone joined the Portland Community Chorus, from which the Magic of Christmas Chorus is drawn.
Boone revealed the surprise just before the rehearsal began. She discreetly followed her mother into her dressing room. Alarmed, Stepp asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I said, ‘It’s customary to attend rehearsals when you are part of the performances.’ Her jaw just dropped.”
As a music teacher, Stepp encouraged both her kids to play an instrument or sing. Her son, Jasan, plays music professionally in Maryland. Boone played strings as a little girl, and moved to voice as she got older. But she stepped away from music as a young adult.
It has been her mother’s wish that Boone return to music.
Her wish come true, Stepp has been smiling since Thursday night.
“I am just so glad,” she said. “It’s wonderful for her to be back in music again.”
Boone is equally grateful. “I think it’s very special for her to have the opportunity to participate with me in something that is so dear to her heart. It has almost come full circle,” Boone said. “I think it makes her feel really good that the tradition will continue in our family, with me and hopefully with my child.”
As a child, Boone would sit and listen to “Magic” in the old Merrill, before it was renovated. The concerts were so crowded, kids would sit on the marble aisle steps. It’s among her favorite family memories. She has attended the concerts all her life, missing only a season or two when she was out of state.
“The performances were so magical, it never bothered me that I was sitting on the cold marble floor. I never felt it was Christmas season until I had seen a performance. I still feel that way,” she said.
This year’s program finds the orchestra returning to the classics, with performances of “O Holy Night,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “White Christmas.” Also on the program are audience sing-alongs, spirited arrangements of “Sleigh Ride” and the pop pieces “We Need a Little Christmas” and “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Featured guest soloists are Jonathan Blalock and Jessica Cates. Blalock, a tenor, and Cates, a soprano, perform around the country with orchestras and opera companies.
Maestro Robert Moody and assistant conductor Norman Huynh will jointly conduct the concerts. Richard Nickerson, director of the Windham Chamber Singers, leads the chorus.
Stepp loves seeing families at the concerts, and enjoys being a part of their holiday celebrations.
“I think my favorite part is when they have the Christmas sing-along and you see the children singing. Everyone seems to be happy,” Stepp said.
Boone’s favorite song is “O Holy Night,” which has a traditional arrangement. The baby’s favorite song, she said, is a gospel number. “He has a little dance party in my belly when we sing that one,” she said. “I think it’s because the song has a strong, muscular bass element. He gets a kick out of it.”
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: