AFPO Holiday Pops: Songs of the Season Returns with Premieres by Mason Alum Vincent Oppido

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Tis the season to be jolly! And it’s time to celebrate the holidays with the winter season’s favorite music once again! After a two-year hiatus in response to COVID-19, the American Festival Pops Orchestra (AFPO) returns to the Hylton Performing Arts Center and Center for the Arts at George Mason University this December with Holiday Pops: Songs of the Season. Rick Davis, Dean of Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) and Executive Director of the Hylton Performing Arts Center, shares, “AFPO is always a festive attraction and I'm particularly excited this year. It's such a thrill to stand on stage in front of the majestic sounds, Maestro Maiello’s baton keeping everything in order while the twinkle in his eyes keeps it festive.”

Founded and conducted by Dewberry School of Music professor Anthony Maiello, AFPO includes professional musicians from George Mason University’s music faculty, United States military bands, and regional orchestras from across the Northern Virginia and Metropolitan D.C. region. Its mission for the American pop music genre aims “to present the best of a treasured musical genre employing some of the country’s most distinguished performing artists.”

Maestro Maiello with Vincent Oppido on the Concert Hall stage in 2009.

Among the music featured in this exciting performance will be that of Vincent Oppido, a Mason Dewberry School of Music alumnus (BA in Music with a Minor in Jazz Studies (2008) and MM in Music with Concentration in Conducting (2010). Called “Vinny” by his friends at Mason, the young professional composer and musician has already garnered praiseworthy credits in the world of the performing arts, his music having been performed across the U.S. and abroad. Oppido’s AFPO connection rekindled this past summer when Maestro Maiello commissioned him to write a new arrangement for the AFPO’s traditional Hanukkah repertoire. Oppido happily agreed, additionally offering his new musical accompaniment for Yes, Virginia, a Christmastime narrative set to music that accompanies an 1897 newspaper editor’s response to an eight-year-old’s question: “Is there a Santa Claus?” Audiences will be in for a treat with Dean Davis’s live narration during the performances.

We had the incredible opportunity of conversing with Maestro Maiello and Oppido about the upcoming AFPO performances. Learn more about their collaboration in this exclusive Q&A:

Audiences are so excited to have the American Festival Pops Orchestra return this year! What are you most excited about?

MAIELLO: I'm thrilled to once again make music with AFPO and perform for such enthusiastic listeners, especially after this two-year break. I wish I could put into words the “magic” of music-making and how it deeply touches our hearts and souls as human beings. Sharing that magic with others musically is the best holiday gift ever.

OPPIDO: I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with so many old friends and colleagues. I’ve known Tony Maiello and Rick Davis for almost 20 years now, which is impossible, because I still feel like a current student! They’re both some of the most influential people in my life and has been great champions of music and the arts. It’s a wonderful gift for a composer to work with them. It really is something special to collaborate with both of these friends after so many years. 

What makes this annual AFPO holiday concert so special each year?

MAIELLO: There is great joy in performing holiday music for everyone and getting everyone into the holiday spirit. Bryan Kidd, composer and arranger for AFPO, and I are like two kids in a candy store when it comes to planning the annual AFPO Holiday Concert program. There are so many musical selections to choose from but one of our favorite things to do is find a standard holiday piece and put a new “twist” on it. Music touches our hearts and transforms our minds and souls—especially holiday music—so being part of sharing it with others is incredibly gratifying.

OPPIDO: I absolutely adore Christmas music—I might go so far as to say some of my favorite music is from the Christmas holiday canon—so in the pandemic-driven height of a pretty crummy time, or just a generally stressful time of year, it feels good to share positive energy.

Can you share more about Vinny’s original pieces and how these came to be? 

MAIELLO: I was looking for something different, a new arrangement for our traditional Hanukkah selections. I knew Vincent would create a masterpiece. He is a “bright shining star” composer in the Hollywood movie industry.  In addition, Vincent also arranged the music for Yes, Virginia, which will also be performed in our December concert. It features narration by Rick Davis, as well as child narration that was pre-recorded by Sylvia London. She nailed the recording on her very first try! What a pro!

OPPIDO: Yes, Virginia is inspired by the famous 1897 Christmastime editorial “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.” In summary, a young girl wrote a letter to the New York Sun, asking the age-old question: Is Santa Claus real? The paper published a response in the form of an editorial—I’ve always loved this piece because of its warmth and loving optimism. As for the new Hanukkah medley, I reached out to a number of friends who celebrate Hanukkah, and collectively came up with six of the more popular songs, including the classic “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.” I sought to create an arrangement that perhaps pushed the harmonic and orchestral color boundaries a bit while, hopefully, honoring the original integrity of these beautiful songs.

Performance Information for American Festival Pops Orchestra: Holiday Pops: Songs of the Season
Hylton Performing Arts Center: Friday, December 10 at 8 p.m.
Center for the Arts at George Mason University: Saturday, December 11 at 8 p.m.

Evelyn Kiley, a longtime Friend of the Center for the Arts, contributed to this article.