by Denny Patterson
Seraphic Fire, South Florida’s Grammy-nominated professional vocal ensemble, will delight audiences once again with an enchanting Christmas program. However, instead of going to them, Seraphic Fire is coming to you.
This year’s performance will be safely delivered online and enhanced with art and holiday visuals to engage viewers and reflect the music’s ambiance. The theme and show title, Home for the Holidays, is very much apropos for today’s current environment, but also serves as a reminder of the warmth, love, and comfort of the place we call home.
Patrons will recognize familiar Seraphic Fire faces, and the concert will include a Seraphic Fire premiere of “What Child is This?,” as well as long-time favorites including “Silent Night,” “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Home for the Holidays will be hosted by Associate Conductor James K. Bass, who is known for excelling at bringing lyrics to life and exploring the musician nuances that are unique to Seraphic Fire. Bass was able to take some time to answer some questions for OutClique.
Denny Patterson: Hi, James! Thank you for taking some time to chat with me about Seraphic Fire’s upcoming concert, A Seraphic Fire Christmas: Home for the Holidays. What can audiences expect?
James K. Bass: In this time of the pandemic, our expectations are so different, so to speak, from our live, in-person performances. We are doing our very best to replicate some of those pieces and melodic elements that you would have heard live. So, there are some familiar pieces that we do historically in our performances, and there are also some new twists. Some things that we may not have been able to do in live performances, including some instrumental interludes and some videography. They should expect an emotional experience, which is exactly what we want to have in our live performance.
DP: Can you tell us a bit more about the history of Seraphic Fire and when the ensemble began?
JB: Yes, this is actually our 19th season. We started back in 2002-2003, and it was a group that started in the Miami area. We are based in Miami, but most of the singers at the time came from that area as well. Many of us were students at the University of Miami, studying music in their graduate program. Then as the original singers of Seraphic Fire started graduating and moving around the country to follow their careers, Seraphic Fire changed its format to bring those singers back. Now we are a traveling choir. We fly into the South Florida area to perform our performance series each year. Obviously, this year being the exception of that, but we generally present somewhere between 55-70 concerts a year in South Florida, including Naples. We think we specialize in music prior to 1750 and after 1950, and our normal format is 13 singers. It is a fascinating and wonderful ensemble.
DP: How long have you been involved with the group?
JB: Since the second concert. There were three concerts that year, so I have been with the organization 18.6 years.
DP: You are a singer within Seraphic Fire, as well as one of the conductors?
JB: I am the associate conductor, so I am always responsible for conducting at least two repertoires a year, which include Christmas. I usually conduct a special project, but I am also a singer. In those contracts where I am not the conductor, I am one of the basses in the bass section.
DP: Seraphic Fire, and you personally, have even been nominated for some Grammy Awards. How exciting was that?
JB: It is amazingly exciting. Seraphic was first nominated in 2012, and in that year, we got two nominations for two totally different projects. It was very exciting and just shows how much work was done that year. I have had the opportunity to work with many other ensembles like Seraphic Fire, and I have a few nominations with projects that I have done with other groups.
DP: Have you always had a passion for music?
JB: I truly have. I remember being in elementary schools, and music classes were my favorite classes to go to. I found out later that I must have had some aptitude at that early age because the elementary school that I attended, they used to give super student awards in different disciplines, like math, history, and English, but they also gave one in music. My mom kept a scrapbook, of course, as all moms do, of the little awards and accolades that I have gotten. I looked back one day, I have never seen this thing, and there were like a dozen super student awards between like first and fourth grade. I thought, obviously something was clicking for me right away for music. I had a passion for it right away, and I knew basically somewhere around fifth or sixth grade that I wanted to do music professionally.
DP: Has Seraphic Fire been doing Christmas concerts since the beginning?
JB: Yes, since the very beginning. The month of December is almost proprietary to the choruses and choirs. Everyone expects to hear vocal music at Christmas time, so we knew right away that was something we would have to do. We love doing it, and it is something we take great pride in. We have kind of created our own special unique way that we do Christmas, and people seem to have responded.
DP: What do you hope audiences take away from these performances?
JB: There are so many things going through people’s minds at Christmas. It’s the end of the work year, and sometimes people have a little time off from their regular routine. Obviously, you have the idea of family, and something we try to incorporate in our programs is nostalgia. The idea of the beautiful memories you had from the past or growing up, your favorite Christmas carol or the piece that makes you think about the holidays the most. We try to find those and incorporate those into our performances. When we do our Christmas concerts live, we always do them in a very low light with candles so people will be immersed in an experience that essentially takes them away from their regular life, in an emotional sense. We always want people to walk out of that 75-minute or so program and to hopefully have forgotten about times. Some do not even realize how much time has passed, but instead, they are just immersed. We also do some things in our concerts that create a high definition, kind of 3D experience with the singers surrounding the audience. It is wholly an emotional experience.
DP: This year’s theme is Home for the Holidays. Does that play into today’s current environment?
JB: It certainly does. Home for the Holidays is something that could work at any time, but it seems to really be very poignant in this current year. Our production this year, we will have some video elements and, normally in the concerts, I speak to the audience in between different sets of music. We decided we wanted to keep that aspect of it, so I recently filmed all the interludes, and one of the things I talked about, I said, “This year we are home for the holidays, and when we say that we really mean it. We are in the comfort of your own home, but we are glad to be able to share it, even in this electronic format.
DP: What do you personally enjoy the most about the Christmas concerts?
JB: In a non-pandemic year, it is our largest and longest contract. Think, if you are a Broadway musician and you take a Broadway show on the road, you are on one night, off one night, on one night, you are doing that same show for many nights in different cities. We have that experience. We have a starting point in Grafton, Vermont, which is this very beautiful idyllic Norman Rockwell kind of village. I love that our singers come from all over the country in North America to this little place, and for those first few days of rehearsals, it feels like we are the only singers in the world. There is no one else around. I love that aspect of us being very close together and putting the show, so to speak, together that we are about to live with for the next 17 days. I think we do 15 nights out of 17 days. I love it all.
DP: What is one of your favorite Christmas memories?
JB: Oh, wow. This is going to be very personal, but when I was growing up, of course as a kid, you have no idea if your parents are struggling with money or not. You do not even understand the concept of money. I remember one Christmas, there was a set of gifts under the tree. I was probably eight or nine, and I loved it. I remember talking to my dad many years later when I was an adult, and I said, “You remember that year I got the, I think it was a gyroscope and a model submarine or something,” and I added, “That was my favorite Christmas ever.” My father said to me, “Wow. I don’t know if you know this, but that was the year your mother and I struggled the most financially. We really only had a budget of about $50 to spend on the entire Christmas, and we were so worried that you were not going to have a good time.” I told my father that was my favorite Christmas ever, so I have a really wonderful memory about that whole concept.
DP: How can one tune in to watch the concert, and how much does it cost?
JB: If you go to www.SeraphicFire.org, the website will have a placard for Home for the Holidays. Right there on the page, it will give you all the instructions. The links are probably there now, but if not, you will know when they go live. There is a cost if you are not a high school or enrolled student. If you are in high school or college, we have a thing called Season S, which stands for students. Students can go to the website, and they can essentially put in their information and they will get the link for free. For anyone else, there is a cost. You can also purchase the entire season; I think it is $99. We have multiple concerts coming up in the spring, but our Christmas concert will be included with that. So, if you go to www.SeraphicFire.org, any information about how to get your pass or sign up for the link, it is all there.
DP: Can you tell us more about what Seraphic Fire has planned for 2021?
JB: We have really been working on this. So much of this year has been on the fly, and we are hopeful about the news and information of vaccines and perhaps our world getting close to normal. We are planning on, perhaps, the very first live in-person events for next year being Christmas again. I am sure it will be enormous. We also have some very special projects that will involve an all-men’s voice program next year featuring Biebl’s “Ave Maria,” and we have a program of new pieces written for Seraphic Fire, and possibly a set of works by Monteverdi and Bach. We have a great season ready to go, and hopefully we can be in person.
DP: Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects you would like to mention or plug?
JB: Seraphic Fire will have another program coming up right away in January and early February. The one in January is really fascinating. It is a performance of some music by Steve Reich, an American minimalist composer. It is a piece written for percussion and orchestra singers based on images and visions he had in the desert. It was called Desert Music. The information will be coming online at www.SeraphicFire.org, so just check the website for all our updates.
“A Seraphic Fire Christmas: Home for the Holidays” will premiere December 20, 2020, at 4:00PM EST. Live pre-concert conversation begins at 3:30PM EST. Visit www.SeraphicFire.org for passes and link instructions or call the box office at (305) 285-9060. Also, make sure to follow Seraphic Fire on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @SeraphicFire for the latest news and updates.