One of the most amazing things I’ve found about New York is the overabundance of free things to do – especially during the Holiday Season. Everyone with talent, or at least a song to sing and share, do so often for the love of it and often for free.

This was the case this Sunday afternoon, where the Arts and Artists at St. Paul’s put together a free “Holiday Songbook” for free. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Bruno Walter Auditorium, was packed to the gills with some standing room in the back filled as well. It started at 2:30 and lasted about two hours – longer than I expected it to be, but at least the hours were filled with great song & singing.

Most of the time, the composers of each song either sat onstage after a brief interview, or sat behind the piano to accompany their singer(s) of choice. There were 25 songs in all, quite a long program, and the evening could have been orchestrated a bit more tightly to let each act flow from one to the next without pause.

However! When the singing started, entertainment certainly ensued. There were so many great songs and performances, too many to be able to type here. Highlights that stuck in my mind, at least, were “The Gift of Mrs. Santa” sung by Mary Ellen Ashley, music by Steven Silverstein, lyrics by Edward Kukolsky, in which Mrs. Santa Clause has a…ahem…little surprise for Santa usually held for the Springtime. Another great comedy song of note was “Mindy Leberstein’s Nativity Scene,” sung by Ellen Zolezzi, music & lyrics by Rob Rokicki, whereby a lovely, spunky, Jewish girl wishes to be a part of the Christmas scene by creating her own unique version of the baby Jesus’ birthplace on her parent’s lawn.

In fact, a running theme that afternoon was “what do I do during Christmas if I’m Jewish” to varying degrees of humor. Robin Gelfenbien sang a song of her own lyrics, music by John Prestianni, called “Jesus Steals My Thunder,” about her own personal struggles as a Jewish girl with the same birthday as Jesus. Another, called “My Jewish Christmas by the Sea,” music written by Rob Hartmann, lyrics by Sophie Jaff, and sung by Holly Hylton, was not a comedy song but a sweet ballad.

The heartfelt songs were certainly there, including a lovely serenade by lyricist Peter Napolitano and composer Mark Janas, sung by Raissa Katona Bennett, called “All I Can Give.” This song need not be sung strictly during the Holiday season, and Bennett was able to lovingly it with hopeful bittersweetness. Another great song was Kathy Hart’s “I Live in New York.” Hart’s lyrics about living in New York and not having enough room for even a small Christmas tree were refreshingly simple and straightforward. The afternoon’s entertainment wrapped up around 5:30, but not after Gina Milo sang a wonderfully cute number by Rick Hip Flores called “My Other Grown-Up Christmas Wish.” As it was a song about a wish for Santa to bring the Wall Street and American economic crisis to a halt, Milo expressed her wish that this song NOT become a “yearly Holiday standard.” In any event, it was an adorable song that showcased Milo’s sexy-powerful persona.

More information about the Arts and Artists of St. Paul’s can be found at www.artsandartistsatstpaul.com. Their next performance of a Songbook series will be on January 26th at 6pm, featuring composer Joel B. New. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Bruno Walter Auditorium. FREE!
111 Amsterdam Avenue
(just south of 65th Street)
Phone: (212) 870-1630