With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s now time to look ahead to the Christmas season. The top item in my personal list of shows to see this weekend is Christmas at the Cathedral, an annual production of the Choral Art Society. This wonderful concert has become a favorite of mine, a welcome respite from the over-commercialization of the holiday.

Another annual event has received top marks from me in recent years: The 2010 edition of “Broadway at Good Theater” stars Sean Palmer, from “The Little Mermaid,” plus a cohort of southern Maine artists. The show has a two-part focus: Christmas songs and Broadway favorites.

Howard Fishman has been described as “one of New York’s most eclectically eccentric folk musicians,” and he’s got a new CD out. Whoops. Make that three new CDs. And he’ll be at One Longfellow Square in Portland this Saturday for a local release party.

Christmas at the Cathedral

I’m one of those many people who are turned off by the tidal wave of over-hyped, in-your-face commercialism that obscures the meaning of the Christmas celebration. In recent years I’ve found a powerful antidote: The Choral Art Society’s annual Christmas at the Cathedral program exalts the traditional music of the Advent season, augmented by modern works that honor those traditions.

I’m not alone in this thought. This has drawn many thousands over the years.

Joined again by the Portland Brass Quintet, CAS will perform a cappella motets plus a variety of other traditional Christmas music. Guest organist will be Dan Moore.

Each year’s edition includes CAS’ signature processional, “Personent Hodie,” a moving arrangement of a Renaissance melody for brass and organ that dates from 1582. Other items on the 2010 program are Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Magnificat” and a trio of Appalachian Christmas carols.

Other traditional selections include “Ave Maria,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Unto Us a Child is Born.” Gustav Holst’s setting of Psalm 148 is an early 20th-century British classic, while Sir John Taverner’s “A Song for Athene” represents contemporary music of the U.K. The program concludes with Franz Gruber’s “Silent Night” performed by singers holding lighted candles and encircling the large hall. That’s another annual tradition.

CAS numbers about 150 members in three sub-groups, all under the direction of University of Southern Maine School of Music professor Robert Russell. All singers are selected by audition; their goal is to enhance their personal musical experience and enrich the cultural life of southern Maine.

Four concerts are planned this weekend at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 307 Congress St. in Portland: Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 5 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. In addition, a “special preview” concert will be held on Saturday, December 4 at noon. Call 828-0043.

‘Broadway at Good Theater’

In recent years, “Broadway at Good Theater” has become one of my personal favorite musical shows of the Christmas season. Good Theater artistic director Brian Allen has a simple formula and it’s very effective. He brings in a major Broadway star and augments the show with a number of local singers in a program that focuses on Christmas music in the first half of the program and showcases the visiting star in the second.

For 2010 Allen has engaged the charismatic Sean Palmer, who recently starred in “The Little Mermaid” as Prince Eric. He also played the male lead in “Saturday Night Fever.” Other Broadway appearances include “The Apple Tree,” “Fosse” and “Dream.” He is well known for playing the role of Marcus in the hit television series, “Sex and the City.”

“Sean is a really handsome leading man with an amazing tenor voice,” says Allen. “He’ll be showcasing his talents in a variety of styles and genres.”

Allen says that “Her Voice,” from “The Little Mermaid,” will be one of Palmer’s show-stoppers. Other Broadway favorites include “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” from “Funny Girl,” and the title song from “The Sound of Music.”

Good Theater’s Broadway star will be joined by Marva Pittman, Kelly Caufield, Lynne McGhee, Jennifer McLeod, Marie Dittmer, Deirdre Fulton, Grace Bradford and special guest David Goulet. Victoria Stubbs is the musical director and leader of the three-piece band.

Christmas music of several genres will be performed. Mel Torme’s famous “Christmas Song” (also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”) epitomizes the smooth crooners of the 1940s, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is 1950s-1960s country and rock, and “Ave Maria” is a standout of the timeless sacred style.

Catch “Broadway at Good Theater” this weekend at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) with performances Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 4 at 3 and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. at 2 p.m. Call 885-5883.

Howard Fishman

From the streets of New Orleans to the best venues in New York: That’s the quick summary of the career of Howard Fishman, a versatile singer, songwriter, guitarist and band leader.

In recent years, Fishman has been a fixture of the New York club scene, including a nine-month run in the Algonquin Room. He boasts a gravelly voice and sings in a disarmingly low-key style using material he draws from many sources.

And he’s ventured far from New York, bookending the country with gigs in southern California to mid-coast Maine.

Ever evolving and increasingly difficult to pigeonhole, Fishman filters a deep passion for New Orleans soul, gritty pop, fervent gospel, open-hearted country and experimental jazz.

Fishman’s prime attraction is his own creativity. And that has been on a marathon recently. After releasing six CDs between 1999 and 2007, Fishman has written, recorded and released no fewer than three albums of his own material in 2010. On Saturday he’ll appear at one of Portland’s top venues, One Longfellow Square, in a CD release party.

For the past couple of days I’ve been playing the third CD from the current trilogy. It’s titled “The World Will Be Different,” and it features an intensely personal collection of songs. Most of these are set in Brooklyn and all reflecting on the breakup of a passionate relationship.

Clearly he understands how to tell a story dramatically. In addition to performing music – he’s on the road much of the year – Fishman is also a theatrical actor, director and scholar who specializes in the works of pioneering American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Howard Fishman appears at 8 p.m. Dec. 4 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in the Portland Arts District. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

The Choral Art Society is the driving force behind Christmas at the Cathedral, an outstanding annual concert. Four performances are slated Dec. 4 and 5.

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