» By CONOR SCRUTON – cscruton@my.apsu.edu

As guests filed into the packed MMC Concert Hall on Friday, Dec. 2, they weren’t greeted by the usual pre-concert protocol. Instead, they could see members of the APSU Percussion Ensemble talking and joking with each other, and audience members.

The stage and concert hall were decked with holly, strings of lights, a Christmas tree and a fireplace. Percussion Director David Steinquest described the concert music “completely recognizable, but at the same time surprising.”

The ensemble opened the show with, “A Very Merry Christmas,” and a high-energy rendition of the classic holiday tune “Carol of the Bells,” complete with timpani, bell tones and a full drum kit.

The percussion students — clad in Christmas sweaters and elf hats — gathered on couches and chairs around the stage’s artificial fireplace to enjoy the show. Steinquest enlisted help from singers Allison Campbell and David Alford, guitarist Paul Binkley, bassist Tony Nagy and drummer Matt Devore to play quieter pieces, including “Family Tree” and “Cradle in Bethlehem.”

While the concert featured several traditional-style songs, there were also many new versions of classics, including a bossa nova arrangement of “Ave Maria,” a bluesy James Taylor-inspired reboot of “Jingle Bells” and a hip-hop/funk flavored reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The concert closed with the New Years’ staple “Auld Lang Syne.”

“I know it’s not a Christmas song … but we figured since we won’t see you guys until next year, we had to do it,” Steinquest said.

The program followed the Halloween percussion concert and the Governor’s Singers’ performance of “The Little Match Girl Passion,” which benefitted Clarksville Loaves and Fishes.

Tickets to these concerts cost either $3 or a donation of two cans of food. Steinquest said he wanted to perform concerts that benefitted those in need, but were also affordable enough for anyone to attend.

Steinquest seems to have gotten his wish; his percussion ensemble performed for a nearly sold-out crowd, and the popularity of their annual Halloween and Christmas concerts has been growing rapidly in recent years.

Steinquest accredits the success of the events to tradition, “It’s a weird thing, we’ve been doing the Halloween concert for 26 years … there’s something about a recurring event that helps to build a following.” TAS