Forty years ago, as the nation celebrated its Bicentennial, a group of Revere leaders, including then-City Clerk John Henry, Revere Journal Editor Bob Long and Associate Editor Dick Powers, Wonderland Dog Park GM Dick Dalton, and then-City Councillor Fred Sannella, came up with the idea of a symphonic concert to culminate the year and welcome the holidays. The North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra played the first “Sounds of Christmas” concert to a packed house at Revere High School auditorium.
Forty years later, the North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra will once again take its place around the altar at St. Anthony’s Church and herald the arrival of the holiday season. The concert, now named in Memory of the Orchestra’s late concertmaster, Revere High teacher Robert A. Marra, is Sunday, December 4 at 4 p.m. Admission to the concert is free with the donation of non-perishable food. Global Partners LP, Bocchino Insurance, Comcast, Suffolk Construction, and Action Emergency Services principally sponsor the concert.
“The concert has gone through some change over the years, but not the music: the music is as joyous and beautiful as ever” said NSPO President and concert co-chair Bob Marra Jr., son of the late concertmaster. “Most significant though, this week’s concert marks another milestone, the 25th consecutive year that admission to the concert is free and it’s held in conjunction with a Food Drive.”
In its original incarnation, the concert was a ticketed event. General Admission and a higher- priced ticket that included a post-concert collation. In the late 1980s, St. Anthony’s Church pastor Father Domenic Menna objected to charging an “admission” price for entry to the church, and the concert was shelved for three years. In 1990, Wonderland teamed with Continental Cablevision—then the City’s Cable TV company and forerunner to current sponsor Comcast—foot the bill for a free concert, which was well attended.
“Still, the concert seemed to lack something. It was wonderful for the people who came to the concert, of course, but it didn’t have the kind of community purpose we envisioned,” said Marra. “And that’s when the St. Anthony’s Church Holy Name Society came up with the idea of the Food Drive. So in 1991 the men of the Holy Name Society manned the tables at the church entrance and collected the food from the patrons as they arrived at the church. And the Holy Name Society has been doing that ever since.”
The food drive has grown exponentially over the years, though Marra said it seems to have leveled off in recent years. “The first year, we might have filled about a 25 or 30 boxes with food. Now, we really encourage people to be generous—a $15-$25 is a reasonable price point—and last year there were about 300 boxes of food delivered to the Revere Food Pantry.
The concert is a vital contributor to the Food Pantry, as the winter months impose increased demand on the Food Pantry’s services. Concert co-chair Domenic Bocchino, whose Revere-based insurance agency became a Principal Sponsor in 2005, remarked how impressed he is by the concert’s charitable purpose. “It is so important to the Food Pantry. We are the largest ‘single-event’ contributor to the Food Pantry, and that really multiplies the value of sponsorship: not only do the people who attend the concert enjoy a great show, but the sponsors’ generosity is transmitted through the audience to countless people who are in need.”
North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Robert Lehmann has led the NSPO since 1998 and has remarked over the years how this concert is annually one of the Orchestra’s favorites. Marra said “The Revere audience makes the musicians feel so welcome. I’m pretty sure a couple of the musicians have been playing in this concert since the start back in 1976, many of them have played for at least the last 25 years, and they always tell me how much fun it is to play to the enthusiastic Revere crowd.”
The concert formula—private sponsorship, free admission, and a food drive—was so appealing to a few visitors that they started their own tradition at St. Richard’s Church in Danvers. “The Orchestra books its first two Sundays of December: the first in Revere, the second in Danvers. And they have the same kind of enthusiasm and generosity. It’s a perfect combination of music and generosity that is so fitting of the holidays.”
Revere’s “Sounds of Christmas” concert was renamed the Robert A. Marra Memorial “Sounds of Christmas” Concert in 2002 following the death of the Orchestra’s longtime concertmaster. “Dad loved this concert,” said his son, who has served as the Orchestra’s administrative head since 1992. “It brought together the most precious things of his life: his violin, his church, and his hometown. And it was his fellow members St. Anthony’s Holy Name Society, the same guys who dreamed up the Food Drive, who proposed naming the concert in his memory. I can’t think of a greater way to remember him.”
The North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1946 as the Lynn Philharmonic Orchestra and assumed its current name the following year. Since then, the Orchestra has played an annual program of three subscription concerts of classical symphonic music. Over the years the Orchestra has featured guest soloists of world renown while also serving as a showcase for talented young musicians. The NSPO comprises approximately 65 musicians, mostly volunteers, and includes students, freelance musicians and retirees whose talents and love for the classical repertoire are unmatched. The Orchestra is staffed by an all-volunteer administrative staff, which oversees all non-musical aspects of every performance. The Orchestra’s next regular subscription concert is Sunday, February 26, 3 p.m. at Swampscott High School Auditorium. For more information visit www.nspo.org.