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December 04, 2023

Orchestrating Holiday Enchantment: Creating the magic of AES Indiana Yuletide Celebration

In the heart of Indianapolis as the lights go up on Monument Circle, there is one thing that heralds the arrival of the holiday season in Indianapolis—the return of AES Indiana Yuletide Celebration. And night after night for almost 30 performances, Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly is on the podium with the ISO, weaving the magic of the season throughout Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Everly’s journey with AES Indiana Yuletide Celebration began in 1994 when he was asked to join the production as Music Director. By the time Everly took the reins, Yuletide Celebration had already evolved into the two-act extravaganza we know today, featuring a professional chorus, dancers, and guest stars, with several weeks of shows running throughout the holiday season.

Recalling his unexpected entry into this enchanting world, Everly reminisces, “I was with the American Ballet Theatre at the time, rehearsing in New York City, when I received a call from Ty Johnson at the ISO. They needed a conductor for Yuletide because Keith Lockhart had stepped down.”

Everly conducted Yuletide Celebration for six years until the ISO offered him the position of Principal Pops Conductor in 2001 when Erich Kunzel departed for Cincinnati. The transition marked a new chapter in Everly’s illustrious career, having spent 14 years as Music Director of the American Ballet Theatre and also working on Broadway with Marvin Hamlisch.

In addition to the nearly 30 performances of Yuletide Celebration, Everly is busy the rest of the year preparing for Pops concerts, film concerts, and various other performances around the country. One might wonder what he finds the most challenging about Yuletide Celebration. Everly reveals, “The most challenging part is getting all the orchestrating and arranging done in time. We work on it all year, but it’s hard to get it all done, even though I love doing it. There’s nothing better for an arranger than hearing one’s work played by so many great musicians. That’s a dream come true.”

Each year, Everly personally arranges pieces for the show, a creative process that he treasures. “It’s another part of my musical soul that I’ve been nurturing since high school, but I believe I’m better at it now than I was back then,” he added with a laugh. “It’s something I eagerly look forward to. It’s a grand part of the Yuletide Celebration experience for me, and it’s a wonderful feeling when I get to hear the musicians playing my arrangements. It doesn’t get any better than that.” He tirelessly composes arrangements for as many pieces as possible, ensuring that the show remains fresh and captivating year after year.

Maintaining that excitement and energy in each performance is a challenge faced by every musician and Everly alike. Everly draws inspiration from his Broadway experience, sharing, “I had the privilege of working Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, doing eight or more shows a week, and it was there that Carol Channing taught me a valuable lesson. She reminded me that the audience is there for the first time every night, and we owe it to them to give 100% every performance. I’ve carried that advice with me throughout my career. It keeps my life interesting and enthusiastic, and I hope it helps the musicians to make each performance sound fresh and new. Over the years, they have accepted that challenge and do it brilliantly.”

As for the highlights of this year’s Yuletide Celebration, Everly enthusiastically mentions the return of The Enchanted Toy Shop, a crowd-pleaser that never fails to enchant children and adults alike. He also notes the beloved performances of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas and the tap-dancing Santas, highlighting the audience’s unwavering love for these numbers.

When asked about what he hopes people take away from Yuletide, Everly doesn’t hesitate. “We always want everyone to walk away with a wonderful memory and a magical experience that starts the moment you enter the Hilbert Circle Theatre and continues as you head home,” he says. “We hope the enchantment lasts throughout the holiday season. The show is something we hold close to our hearts and means a lot to us. We look forward to creating it all year long, and there’s nothing more rewarding for our entire creative team than knowing we have succeeded in bringing joy to our audiences.”