Staff Photo: John Bohn Senior Airman Adam Tianello plays a medley of holiday carols with the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve during a Holiday Tour performance at Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross on Monday.
NORCROSS -- Despite the dreary weather outside, Monday's holiday concert by the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve provided some uplifting cheer indoors at Greater Atlanta Christian School's Long Forum and gave a reminder of how special the season can be.
Chief Warrant Officer Benjamin Boyd, a Conyers native and friend of clarinet player Airman 1st Class Joseph Philpott, returned to the U.S. last week after a four-and-a-half-year deployment in Korea. Boyd delayed a trip in order to see the concert Monday and was impressed with the performance.
"I loved it," Boyd said. "I was supposed to go up to Virginia for Christmas to visit some other family members. But I stuck around another day to go to it. I really enjoyed it."
Boyd, whose favorite song of the performance was the finale of "God Bless America," was happy to be home in time to celebrate the holiday season with loved ones.
"It's great, I love it," he said. "It's strange, but it's a lot different from when I left. The whole state has changed that much."
The performance, presented by the Gwinnett Daily Post, included a group of 27 musicians under the direction of 2nd Lt. Thomas Gamboa. The instrumentation featured standard classical components such as trumpets, saxophones and trombones, but also a bagpipe and Caribbean-style steel drums.
"I had a blast because we feed off the audience," said vocalist and Tech. Sgt. Alyson Jones. "It looked like the audience was having a really good time singing along with us."
Jones and fellow vocalist Senior Airman Jill Diem told some stories during the event to relate the songs to their memories of the Christmas seasons past.
Both come from colder climates -- Jones from Ohio, Diem from Minnesota -- and recalled traditions such as ice skating on frozen lakes and building snowmen. In the story, Diem lamented the lack of a special ingredient in Georgia needed to make a snowman: coal. You need two lumps of coal for the eyes, and the audience agreed that there was a lack of coal because of how good the Norcross children are.
Jones playfully reminded Diem that snow also helps.
Some of the standout tunes of the night were twists on traditional holiday music. After "The Christmas Song," possibly the definition of traditional holiday music, the group performed an arrangement of "Deck the Halls" by Tech. Sgt. David Vittetoe on steel drums, giving the arena's air a Caribbean ring.
Senior Airman Adam Tianello followed that number with a bagpipe medley of some holiday carols, including "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel," that had audience members tapping their feet.
Laura and David Philpott, the parents of Joseph Philpott, were among the audience members who enjoyed the concert. The Philpotts are from Conyers, and this was a rare occasion for them to see their son, who along with the rest of the band is based at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins.
"At the Fourth of July, I was able to go down," Laura Philpott said. "They had a big Fourth of July concert there. And we were really happy to be able to see them on television last year on the 'Holiday Notes' program."
The Band of the Air Force Reserve was nominated for an Emmy for the 2011 "Holiday Notes from Home" program about which Philpott spoke. It is the second Emmy nomination for the group, which also received a nod in 2009, the first-ever for a military unit.
Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, a former director of bands at Georgia Tech, lauded the performance's combination of joy and military service.
"I'll tell you I love giving the holiday spirit with a group like this," Johnson said. "What fantastic musicians. And the fact that they serve us as well is like twice the deal."
Johnson's favorite renditions of the night were one very traditional song and another with a different vibe.
"'The First Noel' was just spectacular," he said. "And I loved the Caribbean piece. I'm a drummer, so obviously I loved the percussion ensemble piece."