Sounds of the season Manitoba musos chime in with their holiday faves

I’ve always loved a good Christmas cracker; those festive tubes that snap open to reveal their surprises from teeny toys to crinkly, rainbow-coloured paper hats. Call it the kid in me — or not-so-secret cheese-ball — but I’ve always found them fun.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

I’ve always loved a good Christmas cracker; those festive tubes that snap open to reveal their surprises from teeny toys to crinkly, rainbow-coloured paper hats. Call it the kid in me — or not-so-secret cheese-ball — but I’ve always found them fun.

Music Matters reached out to 10 Manitoba born, based or otherwise connected musicians to share their holiday reflections in the spirit of the season. What’s on their “Dear Santa” wish list for this year? Find out what makes them go ho ho ho! in this Christmas cracker of musical delights.

1) Ken MacDonald: Associate principal horn, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra; Co-creator of The Spirit Horse Returns, starring Ojibwe Horse “Asemaa’kwe”

Favourite Christmas carol or song?

You’d think that it might be Sleigh Ride, but no — it features the sound of whips, and we only train our horses using positive reinforcement. Plus, most groups play it much faster than a comfortable trot. Every time I hear Sleigh Ride I just feel sorry for those poor horses. My favourite carols are ones that feature the horn, of course, because as everyone knows, it’s the most Christmassy of all instruments.

What’s on your Christmas playlist?

My radio is always on Classic 107, so my playlist is their playlist. I’d encourage people to browse their play log, posted online, and look up great Canadian artists like Hannaford Street Silver Band, Musica Intima, Canadian Brass and the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. I heard a really nice carol by Elektra Women’s Choir on 107 and so I looked up their YouTube channel. I found a playlist of carols, some of which I didn’t know before.

What’s on your Dear Santa wish list this year?

I hope everyone will stuff stockings with tickets to some of the many wonderful live events going on again. Manitoba’s performers are back on stage and ready to entertain you. Live music is an antidote to our world of constant screens and broadband, which can exacerbate our societal tendencies towards isolation and division. Of course, being able to travel to live events can be a privilege, so I’m happy that livestream options are a fortunate legacy of the last couple years when coming together in person wasn’t advisable. Please consider this your invitation to come back to the theatre and to concerts if you can — your local performers need you!

2) Vicki Young: Managing director, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra

What do you look forward most to over the holidays?

Now that our children are living in other parts of the country, I look forward to having everyone together under one roof for at least a few days during the holidays. We usually have a jigsaw puzzle on the go, a big box of Ganong chocolates, a crokinole board at the ready, and music on throughout the day. We watch the birds at the bird feeder and the deer that come into the front yard and get outdoors for some good long walks along the riverbank, and have hot cider by the fire.

Favourite holiday treat?

My great-grandfather was a country baker serving the small communities that were flooded and lost when the St. Lawrence Seaway was built. His daughter, my grandmother, was also fond of baking. Every year I make a batch of her donuts for the holidays, and they conjure up happy memories of early childhood visits to my grandparents’ farm. My mother-in-law’s Christmas stollen recipe is also a particular favourite, and it has been popular with friends and neighbours over the years. And my mother’s shortbread recipe, which she got from a neighbour in Westwood when we lived here for a couple of years when I was growing up, is a delicious, melt-in-your mouth cookie that is one of our Christmas traditions.

What’s on your Dear Santa wish list this year?

The arts can bring joy, solace, inspiration and contemplation, bringing us together for often emotional live experiences. We are fortunate to live at a time when we have incredible composers, musicians, dancers, playwrights, actors and choreographers who can help us see the world a bit differently, either for what it is or what it could be. They help us see beyond ourselves and remind us of the best that humanity can be. I wish that everyone might experience positive personal transformation through the live arts in the coming year.

3) Bill Quinn: Music director, Winnipeg Nurses Choir

Favourite Christmas memory?

My favourite memory is the first Christmas my seven-year old son Patrick flew with us to spend Christmas with my sister Karen’s young family in Kamloops. My sister is a great host, and we filled our faces with Christmas cookies, candy and a delicious turkey dinner. We did lots of outdoor activities too: playing hockey on the river and tobogganing down a hill near the house.

Favourite Christmas song?

Jingle Bells by Bing Crosby and the Andrews sisters. My mom introduced that to us and it’s been an annual part of the music rotation at my house since my early 20s.

Dear Santa wish list?

More gigs for my Very Groovy Things band, a return to bigger audiences for all our fine choirs in the city, and the chance to sing the anthems at a Jets game for our Winnipeg Nurses Choir. For our world, I wish for a stop to the war in Ukraine.

What does Christmas mean to you?

Striving to have a peaceful world every day, not just during the holidays.

4) Steve Bell: Singer/songwriter/storyteller

Favourite Christmas memory?

At my age (62), Christmas memories are a blur of beloved faces, joyous feasts, sacred observances, tender reunions and sober, prayerful reflections.

The sobriety comes from my early years accompanying my father, mother and two sisters into federal prisons each Christmas day for a service in the chapel. My father was a prison chaplain and so we would go in to “celebrate” the day with men who I came to love, and whose brokenness and consequent grief was felt rather acutely on that day. I’ll never forget, as a young lad, standing before my friends and singing a Christmas hymn as most leaned forward, elbows on knees, faces buried in hands and tears falling to the floor. Sharing and singing into that grief seemed sacred somehow. I would have to say that my adult faith was fashioned most profoundly by those experiences. And I am grateful.

What’s on your Christmas playlist?

Some perennial favourites are: Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas, Take 6’s He is Christmas, Wally Larsson’s A Breath of Christmas, and of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

My favourite Christmas song, however, is In the Bleak Midwinter, a gorgeous poem by Christina Rosetti set to music by Gustav Holst. It so tenderly carries both the joys and sorrows of the world, and holds up the dignity of the human person, each with a gift to offer despite one’s circumstance or station.

What does “Christmas” mean to you?

That’s a question that deserves volumes in response. Like most others, Christmas means family and food and friends and fun. After all, it is a holiday. But for me, it’s also a holy day that reverently reminds us that God deeply loves what God has dearly created. And therefore, so will I.

5) Naomi Woo: WSO assistant conductor & Sistema Winnipeg music director

Favourite Christmas memory?

I got married at Christmas! It was a small family wedding, and the best part was my whole family coming together to plan, prepare and decorate together — we even made homemade Christmas Crackers as wedding favours, and shaped tiny marzipan decorations for the cake!

What’s on your Christmas playlist?

I love to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College in Cambridge, which is streamed live every year on Christmas Eve. King’s College is such a special building — it has an acoustic that behaves like an instrument and totally transforms the sounds of the voices. So, it’s not exactly my own Christmas playlist, but rather a playlist curated by the music director of King’s College Chapel every year!

Favourite holiday family tradition?

A bit of a strange one: my family always eats fruit salad served in a pineapple on Christmas morning. It’s a tradition from when my mum and her family lived in Uganda when she was a child!

What do you look forward most to over the holidays?

Time off — to relax, hike and read, but also to spend time preparing for the year ahead, learning new music and practising piano.

What does “Christmas” mean to you?

I love taking some time over the holidays to send Christmas cards to friends old and new. It’s a special time to remember and connect with the people who are important to me.

My partner is from Finland, so we also incorporate some Finnish traditions and food into our Christmas — but one thing we’ll never agree on is where Santa Claus lives: he claims it’s in Rovaniemi, but I of course know it’s in the Canadian North Pole at H0H 0H0.

6) Cheryl Pauls: President, Canadian Mennonite University, and pianist

Favourite Christmas memory?

The year was 1975. Our family loaded our purple station wagon on a trek from St. Catharines, Ont., to Winnipeg for a family wedding. We all but wore our “travel clothes” to the Christmas Eve service so we could slip away ahead of a storm. Those 1972 wagons had a fold-down back seat option; this created spacious sleeping space and a way for kids to sit as if they were in the front seat before compulsory seatbelts were to become law on Jan. 1, 1976, in Ontario, the first province to make them mandatory. We bonded deeply with fleeting pleasure in the cocoon of the car that scary night, the roads a “sheet of ice,” the all-night Christmas music on the radio keeping our spirits calm and bright.

Christmas playlist?

I have two forms of playlists. My two most frequent go-to recordings are Christmas and Winter by the vocal ensemble, Voces 8. For live concerts, I seek (and sing along when there’s room) J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Benjamin Britten’s three Christmas wonders: A Boy is Born, Ceremony of Carols and Saint Nicholas.

Favourite Christmas carol and why?

My favourite Christmas carol line sings of that time, “…when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendours fling, and the whole world send back that song which now the angels sing.” (It Came upon a Midnight Clear). The audacious, grand, anything but passive, daring abandon of the “peace flinging” image brings to life the wondrous Christmas story of God’s word made flesh.

7) Élise Lavallée: Acting principal viola, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

Favourite Christmas memory?

Growing up in Quebec City, Christmas’s big gathering was on Dec. 24. My mom is the cadet of a family of 10 siblings so there was always lots of food, desserts, drinks, gifts and fur coats on the bed for us kids to roll in! We would all (except for mom who has to stay and watch the turkey) go to the 10:30 pm church service in the neighbourhood and on our return we would find our stockings full of candies: Santa was here!

Every Christmas, mom would give us four girls a set of handmade flannel pyjamas — happiness! After opening our gifts we would eat and then I would sneak out to my bedroom, exhausted, and fall asleep to the sounds of the dishes and glasses clinking and the adults laughing and singing until the middle of the night.

Favourite Christmas songs?

I have two favourite Christmas songs, sung by Sarah McLachlan on her CD Wintersong: River and Wintersong. They remind me to be grateful just to be here with loved ones, and to remember lost ones. I listen to them while baking and cooking, on repeat — it drives my family nuts!

Favourite holiday treat?

I have a sweet tooth… actually all my teeth are sweet! My mom is an excellent cook and baker, and would make homemade donuts (with a bit of rum), raspberry slices and a mocha log cake. On the morning of the 25th, us kids would get up well ahead of the adults who had stayed up most of the night. We had to be quiet but we were allowed to just eat desserts for breakfast: my favourite meal of the year!

8) Lizzy Hoyt: Opera singer/Celtic multi-instrumentalist/songwriter

Favourite Christmas tradition?

Music after Christmas dinner. When I was young, we celebrated Christmas with my mom’s extended family in Millet, Alta. After dinner, the grandparents and great-aunts and uncles would ask me to get my fiddle out for some old-time fiddle tunes. Then everyone would sing carols around the piano. There is nothing like family voices singing in harmony! Christmas is a smaller event now but we still manage to make it to the piano to sing carols, and some of our favourite arias from Bach’s Christmas oratorio and Handel’s Messiah. I’m lucky my mom is such a great pianist (and old-time fiddle tune accompanist!).

Favourite holiday treat?

Mincemeat — I wait all year for it! A couple of years ago, I started making it from scratch, which is definitely worth it. I bake them in small tarts so they are an explosion of Christmas flavour in one bite! (“Operation Mincemeat” is scheduled for Dec. 22-23 this year!).

What’s on your Christmas playlist?

I have always been drawn to the beautiful melodies of ancient carols but have developed a mix of favourite albums I play each year: Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band’s Tapestry of Carols, The Chieftains’ Bells of Dublin, Nora Bumanis & Julia Shaw’s Joyeuse, Maureen McGovern’s Christmas with Maureen McGovern and Leontyne Price with Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal for Noel (still on tape!). And for Christmas morning, we listen to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Handel’s Messiah and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite. If I’m a good independent artist, I probably need to say I listen to my own Celtic Christmas album, right?

9) David Liam Roberts: Cellist, currently studying at Toronto’s Glenn Gould School

Favourite Christmas memory?

In Winnipeg at Christmas, it’s often so quiet and almost bright outside with the moon and city lights reflecting off the snow late at night, and for some reason this always made me want to go outside after the midnight service for a ski or skate, or make a quinzhee in the backyard, which I often did. As for Christmas morning, it wasn’t complete without stollen, a German Christmas bread filled with marzipan, and reading an excerpt from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters.

What’s on your Christmas playlist?

Coincidentally, I ended up going to the same church in Toronto as (Manitoban jazz pianist/composer/arranger) Mike Janzen, and a couple weeks ago had the pleasure of playing some of his carol arrangements with him. I’ve had his Carols album on repeat lately, and it always makes me feel the emotions often associated with this time of year: the peace and stillness, the introspection and wonder, the eagerness and joy. Another song that I love to listen to around Christmas time is Wondrous Love by jazz bassist Luke Sellick (a family friend, also from Winnipeg) from his album with guitarist Andrew Renfroe called Small Vacation.

Favourite Christmas tradition?

On Christmas morning, we often go to my Grandma’s church, where she is the organist. My siblings and cousins and I are all musicians, so we form a quintet and join my Grandma in accompanying the carols during the service.

10) Tom Jackson: Actor/singer/activist

Favourite Christmas tradition?

Hosting Christmas Eve dinners for clients of various social service agencies that deal with the homeless. This tradition started in Winnipeg in 1987 in the ground-floor restaurant at the Royal Albert Arms and has grown and been mirrored by others since then. This all happened when I was homeless and couch-surfing at a friend’s place.

Favourite Christmas song?

The Little Drummer Boy, because personally, I feel that the only real gift that I can offer is being able to sing.

And a final message from Tom, with more comfort and joy from his latest song:

Don’t just celebrate Christmas this year — be Christmas!

Maybe in a place that is dreamlike

Some place in the candlelight

An escape from the dark night

I can do more than hug you…

I can hold you tight.

Music Matters now goes on hiatus until January. Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and joyful holiday season filled with music, and see you in 2023!

If you value coverage of Manitoba’s arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow the Free Press to deepen our reporting on theatre, dance, music and galleries while also ensuring the broadest possible audience can access our arts journalism.
BECOME AN ARTS JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

Report Error Submit a Tip