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Central Alberta Chamber Orchestra prepping for ‘A Grinch of a Holiday Concert’

The Central Alberta Chamber Orchestra is prepping for the second performance of its inaugural season - ‘A Grinch of a Holiday Concert’ - at the Lacombe Performing Arts Centre Dec. 11.

The Central Alberta Chamber Orchestra is prepping for the second performance of its inaugural season - ‘A Grinch of a Holiday Concert’ - at the Lacombe Performing Arts Centre Dec. 11.

“We are going to give a family Christmas concert,” said Jim Bicigo, one of the co-founders of the Orchestra. “We will have a couple of excerpts from Messiah, plus a couple of carols from John Rutter and a couple of Hannukuh songs. But the main feature is that Danica Hoffart will be telling the story about how the Grinch stole Christmas, and we will be playing the music from the 1966 Christmas special,” he said.”It will be a lot of fun.”

Bicigo said the evening will wrap up with a Christmas sing-along.

“It’s something we haven’t been able to do for a couple of years, so I was thinking how we really needed to end this with a sing-along.”

The Orchestra first performed this past September.

“We got started because the professional musicians in Central Alberta pretty much have to travel to Calgary or Edmonton to play,” he said. “We wanted a professional ensemble here in Central Alberta, so this group grew out of the Central Alberta Chamber Players (Bicigo, Karen Gustafson, and Louise McMurray) and Trio Brio (Joyce Howdle, Val Sherman, and Cheryl Cooney.)

“We were doing something together at the Red Deer Library last January, and Cheryl said, ‘Jim, don’t you think we should have our own orchestra?’ I said, yes I do! So we got started,” he added with a laugh.

“We are called the Central Alberta Chamber Orchestra because we come from Red Deer, Lacombe, Innisfail, and Ponoka and we want to serve Central Alberta. We are based in Red Deer, but we want to serve the (region).

“We are also trying to build a professional music community here in Central Alberta for Central Alberta - we need that, and we have the musicians to do it.”

To that end, plans are already taking shape for concerts in various communities well into the New Year.

Many members of the group, including Bicigo and Gustafson, were former instructors at Red Deer Polytechnic, which shut down its music programs in 2018.

Bicigo, who plays trombone, originally hails from Marquette, Michigan, where he also received all of his music education as well.

“Then I got a job teaching at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in 1998. When I was there, I was a member of the faculty brass trio which was called Borealis Brass. I went with that group to Italy, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, and all over Europe, Canada, and the U.S. We made an album, and just before I retired from UAF, I started another album which was released once we had moved here,” he explained.

It was in Alaska that he also met and married fellow musician Karen Gustafson.

They later settled in Red Deer to work at the College, which lasted two years before, as mentioned, the program was ultimately shut down.

Ever since, the couple has kept busy with teaching around the region, including becoming contract faculty at Burman University here in Lacombe.

Looking back even further, Bicigo’s passion for music was sparked at a very young age.

“According to my mom, I was singing as a young child, and I was always interested in music,” he said. “And on my dad’s side, there are lots of professional musicians. There was always music in our house. I’ve also been fortunate to have had a lot of great mentors and people in my life who have encouraged me along the way.

“Music is a way to communicate - it’s feelings as opposed to words. I never was more convinced of that than when I was in college and had the opportunity to play for the 750th anniversary of Berlin. I was part of a group from the University of Michigan that went over and played for that.”

Bands came from all over, but the music proved a unifying force.

“In dealing with the music, everyone understood what was happening. It didn’t matter what language we spoke - the music was the language,” he said. “It’s just a totally unique way to communicate.”

Meanwhile, the upcoming concert here in Lacombe will also feature Christmas classics from Tchaikovsky, Suk Irving Berlin, and others. “It really has something for everyone.”

Tickets ($15) are available at Mary C. Moore Public Library or at

Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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