Fortuna music festival promises a harmonious Sunday

Heather Nyberg-Schlotzhauer

Beacon Correspondent

Another holiday year is upon us as Humboldt County prepares for the 37th Annual Fortuna Christmas Music Festival, to be held at the River Lodge in Fortuna on Sunday from 12:30-6:15 p.m.

Michael McClimon, the new chairman of the Fortuna Christmas Music Festival, said he's very excited to be working with past president and organizer Bob Besanceney.

"We have a great line up this year with the All Season's Orchestra, Humboldt Harmonaires, Humboldt Accordionaires, Fortuna High School Choir, Scotia Band, Ferndale Community Choir, College of the Redwoods Concert Band, Tuba Christmas, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Choir, and the Fortuna High School Symphonic Band," McClimon said,.

McClimon is the director of the Scotia Band and has been since 1976.

"In 1976 Dorothy Early asked me what I thought about Fortuna having its own Christmas music festival. I told her that I thought it was a great idea and offered to help her start one by the next year," he said.

"Dorothy pretty much directed the festival for its first 18 years. She had some health problems in 1987 and asked her friend Merle Adams to help her run the festival," McClimon said.

Adams passed away in 1993 leaving a hole in the planning efforts. When Early came to McClimon about what to do, McClimon recommended that a committee be formed to share the work of running the festival.

"A few months later she called me to say, 'Guess who else I've got to join our committee?' " McClimon said. "Since the committee was formed, in the summer of 1993, I've been a member. I've served as chairperson of the Fortuna Christmas Music Festival committee from 1995 to 1999, continued as chair for the next 13 years and now in the 37th year am chairperson again."

McClimon is not the only longtime face of the festival. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Choir has been a part of the festival for over 30 years, if not since the very beginning.

The director for the choir is Diane Williams, who has held the position since 1997. When asked how long the choir has been performing, Williams laughed.

"No one seems to be able to come up with the startup date. There were two other directors prior to me, but still we don't have a specific date other than we know it is well over 30 years."

The choir is well known for their unique and special arrangement of "Have an Old Fashioned Christmas."

"The song originally came from a church magazine in 1979 and then one of our choir members made an arrangement for our choir which has now become a beautiful tradition," Williams said. "Those who come to the festival know we sing it and seem to enjoy it."

The group has about 30 members, but varies due to it being a volunteer group.

"People come and go and then sometimes come back again," Williams said. "I have been singing with the choir since 1986 and then I became the director. I love to sing and I love to sing Christmas music. I love church hymns and feel it brings us closer to our Savior."

The group practices once a week with its members ranging in ages from 16 to mid-70s.

"We have a very talented accompanist which allows us to more complicated songs," Williams said. "We are very happy to have Challis McCullough."

The Fortuna High School Music Department has been performing in the music festival since the very beginning and this year will not only have the choir, but also the band conducted by Dr. Sarah McClimon, Michael McClimon's daughter.

"I was a FUHS student and returned last year to be its music director," she said. "I am in my second year as the music teacher at Fortuna High School. I direct the symphonic band, choir, and jazz band. The Symphonic Band and Choir will perform at the Christmas Music Festival."

Dr. McClimon's husband, Abdur Rahman, is also on the festival committee. She plans to bring her 3-year-old son Noah so that he can also enjoy the beauty of the season.

"There have been many transitions in the past few years and the department is growing and strong thanks to many dedicated students, their parents and this supportive community," Dr. McClimon said. "I grew up with the Fortuna Christmas Music Festival. I attended the first Christmas Music Festival in utero. My mother, pianist Ruth McClimon, attended the 1976 Fortuna Christmas Music Festival while she was pregnant with me. I also attended and performed in many Christmas Music Festivals in the 1980s and 1990s with Christ Lutheran Church Choir, the Scotia Band and the Fortuna High School band and choir."

Fortuna High School has a growing Symphonic Band described as being a band that has a wonderfully warm and rich sound and lots of energy. "We will perform a few medleys of holiday music, along with selections from the classic Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky," Dr. McClimon said.

The choir is also very excited to perform on Sunday. They will sing Handel's "Joy to the World," the Polish Christmas carol "On A Winter's Night" and a setting of the Shakespeare sonnet "How Like a Winter." Additionally they will perform "Moon at the Ruined Castle," a Japanese song.

"The Fortuna Christmas Music Festival is a wonderful community event that brings together musicians, business members, volunteers and the community for a day of beautiful music. For many of my students this is a family Community Choir," Dr. McClimon said.

The music will begin at 12:30 with the All Seasons Orchestra with Justin Sousa as conductor. At 1 p.m. you can catch Jon Majors conducting the Humboldt Harmonaires followed by Judy Sachie directing the Humboldt Accordionaires at 1:30 p.m. Fortuna High School will make two appearances during the festival conducted by Dr. McClimon. The FUHS choir will perform at 2 p.m. followed by the FUHS band at 5:30 p.m. The beloved Scotia Band conducted by Jill Petricca will make their appearance at 2:30 p.m. followed by Betty Diehl conducting the Ferndale Community Choir at 3 p.m. College of the Redwoods Concert Band conducted by Brian Newkirk will perform at 4 p.m. and be followed by Fred Tempas conducting Tuba Christmas at 4:30 p.m. and longtime performers the Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Choir conducted by Diane Williams.

In true tradition the event will wrap up with the finale of Hallelujah Chorus and Silent Night at 6 p.m.

"All of the groups feel it is a magical time to share their music," Michael McClimon said. "Many say the Fortuna Christmas Music Festival is their favorite Christmastime performance. Many in our audience come early and stay for the finale."

Dr. McClimon said she's excited about the upcoming festival.

"One of our favorite parts of the Christmas Music Festival is the Holiday Grand Finale, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus," she said. "The Fortuna High School Symphonic Band will provide accompaniment for a sing-along rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, which is a stunning piece of music. The independence of the parts makes it a challenge for us and students have been practicing diligently."

For more information, call the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce at 707-725-3959 or the Fortuna Business Improvement District at 707-725-9261.

Photo by Heather Nyberg-Schlotzhauer/Beacon

The Fortuna High School Choir and Band will be performing a wide range of music on Sunday to touch all music loving types. The FUHS group is one of the only performers that has been a part of the Christmas Music Festival since the very beginning.