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Gala holiday show, A Classic Christmas, set for Dec. 21

Special to The PREVIEW

Photo courtesy Jeff Laydon
Anita Briggs brings her masterful skills as a harpist to A Classic Christmas. The annual holiday show is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Ross Aragon Community Center.

A Classic Christmas, an annual holiday concert, will be presented Dec. 21 at the Ross Aragon Community Center. The Pagosa Brass Sextet starts things off at 6:45 p.m. Doors and the cash bar open at 6:30.

Advance tickets for $12 are on sale at the community center. Tickets at the door are $15. Young people, 18 and under, are invited to attend the concert free of charge. Please bring snacks and desserts to share at the concert. Please bring donations of non-perishable food items, which are being collected at the community center in support of our local food banks.

The stellar cast of A Classic Christmas includes Pagosa Brass Sextet, Santa and the Snowflake Sisters, John Graves, Larry Elginer, Debbee Tucker, Kathy Isberg, Dan Burch, June Marquez, Dave Krueger, Sally Neel, D’Ann Artis, Kathy Baisdon, Joshua Pike, Ping, Jessica Espinosa Trujillo, Emily Tholberg, Nancy Zevely, Larry Baisdon, Anita Briggs and Jessica Peterson.

When a man named J.I. Harvey brought his family to Pagosa in the forties, he planted a seed whose flowering still proliferates in the San Juans. Harvey’s wife, Jeffie Lou Pecor, was an opera singer. His daughter, harpist Anita Briggs, was an early godmother of classical music in Pagosa, performing concerts and teaching piano, voice and harp. Harvey’s granddaughter, flutist and flute-maker Jessica Peterson, is a true inspiration in our quickly emerging music and arts scene.

Photo courtesy Jeff Laydon
Flutist Jessica Peterson headlines the second half of A Classic Christmas, Dec. 21 at the Ross Aragon Community Center. Peterson will perform with her mother, harpist Anita Briggs.

Jessica remembers hearing her mother play the harp when she was falling asleep at night.

“Since I was a baby, I loved being able to hear my mother practice from my bedroom,” she recalls.

Anita first came to Pagosa in 1946. She brought her children to spend every summer in Pagosa from the time they were babies. The family moved here full time when Jessica was in junior high.

“Thank goodness my mother didn’t stop when we moved to my grandfather’s big, unheated summer house. In spite of the cold and of being isolated from other musicians, my mother kept playing,” says Jessica.

Jessica and Anita gave recitals and played for weddings throughout Jessica’s high school years. They performed regularly at the Tamarron Resort (between Durango and Purgatory), where they made the acquaintance of a music legend by the name of John Denver. When another musical legend — Dan Fogelberg — got married at his Mountain Bird Ranch in Pagosa, he asked Anita and Jessica to play for his wedding.

“It was the beginning of a good friendship between my mother and Dan,” Jessica recalls. “He invited us over for meals and horseback riding, and he spent many evenings at our house, eating and playing word games. In spite of them both being musicians, music was not usually involved in the visits I remember, unless you count the time my mother looked over to find Dan stirring the butter into the popcorn with her harp tuning key.”

Fogelberg took a stunning photograph of Anita and her harp, which was published on The Pagosa SUN Preview cover in April 5, 1984. The article, written by Kay Hughes, is titled “Joy of music leads child prodigy through piano lessons at age four to career as acclaimed harpist.” Anita, as a young lady, had already achieved a remarkable degree of accomplishment in the classical music world.

In the article, Anita Briggs is quoted: “My mother, Jeffie Lou Pecor, was a wonderfully talented musician. She sacrificed in every way for me to have the opportunities that I had for training.” Anita studied with some of the legendary classical harpists.

“Ethereal notes from a flute so delicately played that they seem to come from the Milky Way painted across the sky,” is how Sarah Savage describes the music of Jessica Peterson.

Jessica performs on concert flute, clay bird ocarina and Native American flutes. Her musical vivacity is reflected in the enthusiasm that lights up her audience. Besides being a popular concert performer Jessica is a world-class maker of Native American flutes and she is the proprietor of the Nighteagle flute company, which she operates from her Pagosa home.

In addition to ancient carols and contemporary Christmas favorites, Anita and Jessica will play some less well-known pieces. “Song to the Waking Sun” is from Charles Rochester Young’s evocative piece for harp and flute, “Song of the Lark.”

“This fits right in with our Christmas program,” says Jessica, “because Christmas Eve is when ‘the bird of dawning singeth all night long.’ Though I think Shakespeare had a rooster in mind for his ‘bird of dawning,’ I would prefer to hear a lark.”

Anita will be playing the beautiful “Song in the Night,” a harp solo by Carlos Salzedo, her celebrated teacher. The popular bird ocarina will make an appearance and there will be a surprise number involving audience participation and mystery instruments.

“This is going to be a very special evening of music,” says Jessica. “We’re especially excited about the piece we get to play with June, Jessica Trujillo and Larry.”

The SUN’s 28-year old article about Anita Briggs ends, “Area residents will have a rare opportunity to hear this poised, beautiful and talented, professional harpist at the (venue).”

It’s deja vu all over again, with Anita Briggs taking the stage — right here in Pagosa — with Jessica Peterson, amidst performances by a large, celebrated cast of musicians at A Classic Christmas, 6:30 to 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 21, at the Ross Aragon Community Center.

A Classic Christmas is presented by the Ross Aragon Community Center, in conjunction with Elation Center for the Arts. The Pagosa Springs SUN is event sponsor. Thanks to photographic artist Jeff Laydon for his beautiful photographs of Anita Briggs and Jessica Peterson.

This story was posted on December 13, 2012.