207: Portland’s municipal organist improvises with traditional holiday music

James Kennerley has barely been Portland’s municipal organist for a year, but is proving his skills of improvisation on the Kotzschmar Organ inside of Merrill Auditorium. On Tuesday, he and some talented vocalists are putting a spin on traditional holiday classics with their show, “Christmas With Kennerley.”

The show will be a mix of original songs by James Kennerley, and other traditional music with a touch of his own style. Kennerley has been a guest host on 207 in the past, and isn’t your typical organist. In his early thirties, he’s a composer, a conductor, a musician, and spends his free time cycling and rock climbing. 

Since he’s hosting a Christmas show with guests, we wanted to know more about where his traditions came from, growing up in England. For him, from the very beginning, the holiday has been about music. 
Kennerley grew up with a love for music, specifically the sound of an organ. He’s grown an affinity for improvisation, and most of his concerts at Merrill Auditorium are a mix of original music he’s composed, and his own improvised take on classics. 

Prelude music begins at his show Tuesday at 7 PM with The Parish Ringers, a hand bell choir; then James Kennerley will be joined by the ChoralArt Singers, renowned Metropolitan Opera soprano and Maine native, Ashley Emerson, and the Kotzschmar Festival Brass & Percussion brass ensemble. 

Because James Kennerley is known for his wild socks while playing the organ, and because it’s one of the most needed items in a shelter, there will be a collection at the show of new socks for the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland.

Amanda Hill, 207, News Center Maine, December 12, 2018