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Released November 25, 2003


HATTIESBURG - Suppose for a moment that Santa Claus lived in the Caribbean or in South America rather than the North Pole. Following that thought to its unique end, imagine a family holiday concert spectacular, one of rhythmic proportions and a touch of jazz, that will transform traditional Christmas music into toe-tapping, reggae fun.

Turning this rather amusing idea into reality is a simple feat for The University of Southern Mississippi Steel Band, Percussion Ensemble and Samba Band. These groups, all under the direction of John Wooton, associate professor in the School of Music, will present two shows of their ever-popular "Rhythms of Christmas" at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 7 in Bennett Auditorium.

"This is a family holiday event for the young and the young at heart," Wooton said. "This concert will be great fun for kids and adults alike. Many Christmas events are very serious. This is not. This event is refreshing and entertaining - the kind of concert that will leave people literally dancing in the aisles!"

Wooton, who first produced the concert in December 2001, likes to add new twists to his lighthearted creation each year. He has asked colleague Larry Panella to have his Jazz Lab Band "join the party."

Panella, associate professor and director of jazz studies at Southern Miss, will lead his ensemble in a big band rendition of "God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."

As for the percussion ensembles, a variety of music styles will be represented - Caribbean sounds, samba versions of Christmas standards, and a nontraditional version of the very traditional "Twelve Days of Christmas," which involves everything from reggae to opera.

"'The Twelve Grooves of Christmas' will feature someone dressed up for each day, representing a particular style of music," Wooton said. "For example, the first day will be opera, and that part will be sung by a performer using an operatic voice, but the second day will be of the heavy metal style, and the third day is swing style, and so on.

Wooton continued, "This year, we've asked Frank Cilantro to join us. It's going to be our most memorable show yet."

Other concert highlights include a jazzy "Jingle Bells," the hand-drumming ensemble performing "Ave Maria," and the Southern Miss Salsa Band's rendition of "Feliz Navidad."

"As a special treat for us, the third grade class from Sacred Heart School will join us in a hip version of 'Away in a Manager,'" Wooton said. "And Santa Claus - or more appropriately, Rasta Claus, as they say down south of us - will be there too - in his jams, of course."

Tickets are $10 for adult general admission and $5 for senior citizens, students and children under 12. For tickets, call the Southern Miss Ticket Office at (601) 266-5418 or 800-844-8425. Order online at


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM