Making merry: Holiday Jam is coming to town on Thursday
WORTHINGTON -- For most of the year, their talents are scattered across the country -- from New York to New Mexico and points in-between. But as each holiday season draws near, they are drawn back to their roots and the opportunity to spread holiday cheer through a unique musical endeavor.
They are the nine musicians of the Holiday Jam, a production that features "stories of the season, messages for the heart and music to lift the spirits."
Evolving from a previous holiday musical endeavor in which they were involved, A South Dakota Acoustic Christmas, the Holiday Jam began three years ago as a project of Jeremy Hegg and Jonathon Hegg, brothers who seemed destined for careers in music.
"Our parents were a band director and a choir director," explained Jon Hegg, the younger of the siblings, who has a music degree from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. "But the brilliance of the way they raised us is they didn't force anything on us. ... But we grew up around it, and we were always at choir rehearsals and stuff."
Throughout their many collaborations, the Heggs have defined their roles.
"The older we get, the more we realize what our strengths are," said Jon. "When I need to do something better, he pushes me, and when he needs it, I do the same. It's pretty clear what our roles our. His is to create the show, craft it, arrange it, rehearse us. My role is behind the scenes, making sure the travel gets taken care of, we have a place to stay, and when it's done, I'm the guy who makes the CD."
When they began putting the first Holiday Show together, the Heggs determined they wanted a nine-piece ensemble in order to spread out the musical responsibilities.
"The beautiful thing is, sometimes you get lucky, when everyone is perfectly qualified, musically qualified," Jon said. "We had a list three-deep for each position, and we got the No. 1 for all of them for three years in a row.
"Musically is one thing," Jon added, "but you've also got to travel together, usually in a van, and I'm almost more proud of the family we've created, the interrelations we have as friends, as of the music."
One of the Holiday Jam "family" members is Worthington's own Noah Hoehn, son of Joe and Carol Hoehn and a 1998 graduate of Worthington High School. Hoehn, a percussionist and harmonica specialist, mostly performs as a solo act and enjoys the change of pace of the Holiday Jam.
"This is a blast," he said. "I just have so much fun every year. Part of it, for me, is being a role player, which is a huge treat for me -- to play orchestral bells, all my percussion instruments, shakers and whatnot, singing four-part harmonies, singing a couple of leads in the show, and obviously, harmonica."
Hoehn admits holiday music hasn't been his forte in the past, but now he relishes the spins that Jeremy Hegg's arrangements put on the genre.
"I had some concerns because I have a reputation among my friends for not liking Christmas music: 'C'mon. You're going to be doing a holiday show?'" Noah related. "But when you do 'Rudolph' in a classic mambo style, that's fun. With some songs, we try to be as true to the original as we can, but with others, it's just a whacky interpretation, and that keeps it fresh."
The 2011 version of Holiday Jam made its debut just last night with a performance in Brandon, S.D., and another one is scheduled for tonight in Sheldon, Iowa, followed by dates in Spearfish, Pierre, Mitchell and Brookings before it comes to Worthington on Thursday. It's a whirlwind to put the show together, according to Jon Hegg.
"We have three days to prepare for the show," he said. "I know that sounds a little weird, and I don't want it to come off as arrogant, but part of it is why we have so many people -- part of that is the buffer zone. When you have nine, you don't have to learn as much."
"It takes the burden off everybody," agreed Hoehn. "The proverbial ball gets passed around. It keeps the show fresh, and everybody loves what the other person does. There are no egos. We just enjoy making great music and that we can hang back and just play our part."
They may have just three days to rehearse as a group, but each of the individual players has worked on the material in advance.
"The main thing is we know each other," Jon said. "Jeremy arranges all the music, and he knows what everybody needs. One may need a recording more than a chart, and everybody's had the music for a few weeks and the recordings for a month."
Each year the show is completely different -- well, almost completely different.
"Right before the intermission, we'll do something from the prior year's CD, which will be sold at the intermission," Jon said. "And it's also become a tradition -- Jeremy has come up with a very thoughtful version of 'O Holy Night.' We might change it up a little bit, but we're pretty sure that every year it's going to be in the show."
There's a loose thread running through this year's show that will be nostalgic for the audience.
"Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, what are the things you're going to hear in the background?" Jon related. "You'll hear some of the themes from shows that play during that time -- Charlie Brown, Rudolph. We're not going to do them straight up; we'll have a twist on them. Don't expect it to be too simple when it comes to Jeremy's mind. It's my favorite show yet. When it comes to adding stuff from TV, there's some humor, but a commonsense kind of humor, and when that plays out musically, the audiences respond magically.
"I like the fact that the status quo doesn't interest him," added Jon about his brother. "It's wonderful to have a brother be your musical compadre. Jeremy will get bored with something before our audience will. He's constantly evolving, reinventing stuff, and you can't take that for granted."
Although the show may take them away from their loved ones for a few weeks, the Holiday Jam has become a integral part of the season for its cast members.
"It is my holiday spirit," said Jon. "I have a joke with my family that I don't want anything for Christmas. My gift is having fun playing this music. It is my new Christmas tradition."
The Holiday Jam begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, 714 14th St., Worthington. Tickets are available at the box office, which is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday; phone 376-9101.