One of the most powerful and moving musical events of 2018 came towards the end of the year, at the Christmas concert put together by North Preston’s multi-talented Reeny Smith with many members of her extended family taking the stage of the Carleton Music Bar & Grill for two sold-out shows.
From classic R&B covers performed by Smith and her sister Mahalia, backed by a band that included her brother JR on drums, to a room-silencing rendition of O Holy Night by her mother Maureen and grandfather Wallace’s soul-stirring Silent Night, the evening was one show-stopper after another.
Just as entertaining was the between-song banter between the singer and her family members, as they recalled Christmases past at home and in the community’s St. Thomas Baptist Church, and revealed a bit of the sibling rivalry that comes from growing up in a household containing so much talent.
This year a memorable event morphs into an annual tradition as Reeny’s Family Christmas moves to two bigger stages this month, taking place at St. Matt’s Church on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., followed by a Truro concert at the Marigold Cultural Centre on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Smith says it was always her plan to gather everyone together for an annual holiday concert, but until they staged those first shows last year, she didn’t know what their impact might be.
“Having everyone from my family together on stage for the first time was pretty amazing,” says Smith, during a break from a songwriting session in her home studio.
“It brought together everything that I’ve been talking about throughout my whole career, how my whole family is so musical, and to be able to finally see that on stage and play with my relatives in that capacity was the best present I got last year for sure.”
2018 also marked the occasion for Smith to write her first-ever original Christmas song, December, which summed up her personal feelings about the season and the family and fellowship that grows stronger as those first snowflakes fly.
This year she debuts Dear Santa, one of five new songs she’s written since last winter with an eye on making a Christmas album for release late next year. One new piece is sung from the perspective of a shopping mall Santa Claus, and another inspired by the importance of focusing less on acquiring material things and more on matters of the heart and soul.
“I’ve become more inspired by the season, but you can expect to hear more original Christmas songs by next year, for sure,” she says.
“It kind of inspired this whole thing, after last year, Christmas lasted a long time for me.”
Since she penned December, Smith says she’s become inspired to suggest writing a holiday song to switch things up while working with other composers, or when working on new material in her home studio in North Preston.
“It’s my favourite season, I really do think about it often, I don’t know if that’s weird or not. But sometimes you just get inspired to write from that place, and that’s kind of how all those songs came together.”
Upcoming Smith singles
If you’re wondering when Smith is going to have some new non-seasonal songs to enjoy, she’s currently preparing some fresh material to release as singles in early 2020, continuing in the R&B mode of Survive and Good Girl Swag, designed to highlight her considerable vocal skills and present the results of a busy year of working with other artists from across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
A lot of her efforts in 2019 were behind-the-scenes, resulting in her songs showing up on the CBC-TV series Diggstown and leading to overseas connections like Taiwan pop singer J Sheon, which Smith says has opened up a whole new world of collaboration.
“It’s crazy how all these new avenues are opening up for me to continue doing what I love, it’s super cool,” she says. “Next year we’re planning more international trips and a lot more writing and networking, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Tickets for Reeny’s Family Christmas are available online at www.tickethalifax.com for the Dec. 14 Halifax show at St. Matt’s and at the Marigold Cultural Centre box office for the Truro show on Dec. 15, 902-897-4004 or www.marigoldcentre.ca.
The holiday heavyweight event of the year remains the annual production of Tchaikovsky’s timeless ballet The Nutcracker at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, from Dec. 6 to 15.
Now in its 29th year, this orchestrated effort between Symphony Nova Scotia, Halifax Dance and Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia combines over 100 musicians, dancers, puppeteers and behind-the-scenes staff to present the classic story of the adventures of young Clara and the Nutcracker Prince as they do battle with the menacing Mouse Queen and dance with flowers, toys and faeries in an orchestral dreamland.
Choreographed by Halifax Dance’s Leica Hardy and conducted by Melanie Leonard, with puppetry direction by Mermaid’s Jim Morrow, The Nutcracker is always a memorable experience for families, with returning dancers Giovanna Lamboglia and Junior Gaspar in the lead roles, local student Bridget Kenny as the Mouse Queen, and veteran performers Gay Hauser, Alexis Milligan and Chrisopher Wolfe.
Tickets for evening and matinee performances are going fast, starting at $15 students/children and $35 adults at www.symphonynovascotia.ca or in person at the Dalhousie Arts Centre box office (902-494-3820).
If you’re in Pictou County this weekend, or feel like making a holiday roadtrip, Ann Holton and Friends present A Merry Little Christmas Show at Pictou’s St. Andrew’s Church on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Holton will sing songs from her recent CD of holiday favourites, A Merry Little Christmas, joined by some of the region’s favourite musicians, including John Spyder Macdonald, David Pos, Pam LeBlanc, Ray Stewart, Bruce Holton and the young trio of Jud Gunning and Katey and Pierre Aucoin. There will also be a tribute to the late Fleur Mainville, including tunes from her Christmas album Fleurries.
Part of the proceeds from the concert go towards the St. Andrew’s Church Fund, tickets are $20 adults/$10 students at the door.