When Meg Finn, director of the Lycoming Arts Council, and accomplished area musician and music producer, Walt Straiton, met several months ago to discuss the idea of producing a Christmas music album featuring area musicians, they had no idea that it would become such a work of love and great music that would benefit Lycoming Arts, nor would they know that Meg would not be around for its release. According to Straiton, the album represents a broad cross-section of the wide variety of musical artists in our region and features 17 songs.
“This is a project that I always had in the back of my mind, a throwback to my days growing up as a kid in Harrisburg — I always looked forward to the Saturday after Thanksgiving when both the Goodyear and Firestone Tires Stores would release an annual LP (long playing album) that had a variety of artists offering their version of time-honored Christmas classics,” Straiton told “Webb Weekly”. “I approached Meg Finn to see if this was something that she would be interested in to benefit Lycoming Arts where she served as Executive Director.”
He said there was a twofold goal, first and foremost to highlight the depth and breadth of musical talent that resides in this region, and secondly to support Meg’s tireless efforts to both unify and strengthen the numerous arts organizations within Lycoming County via Lycoming Arts, and then to fuse those efforts together for comprehensive business development throughout the county.
Straiton was asked how he recruited the various artists to perform on the album/disc.
“We can all be grateful for the unanimous positive response to my request to contribute a ‘track’ for this project, whether it be for individual artists, a small group, or a large, established musical organization, we laid out the project in late spring and the process of gathering the music started,” Straiton said. “With some groups, like the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, we were able to draw upon previous recordings, with others like the WAHS Millionaire Strolling Strings and GQ, special recording sessions were hosted before the end of last school year. Lastly, there was a series of individual sessions hosted either at Lycoming College of Green Valley Recording Studios in Hughesville, as we approached the completion of the project. I’m most thankful for the ‘golden ears’ of both Tim Breon, along with Richard Rupert of Green Valley Recording Studios and the good folks at Robert M. Sides.”
He said the objective was to sample a broad cross-section of musical styles, symphonic, jazz, rock-n-roll, country, Christian and span the entire spectrum of age groups and experience ranging from the youngest (the Williamsport Suzuki Violins) to the professional (Williamsport Symphony Orchestra) and many more.
Straiton sees the project as an unintended tribute to Meg Finn.
“It’s certainly an unintended consequence. Several friends took the lead in dedicating the CD to Meg immediately following her unexpected and tragic death as we were traveling together in the Far East,” Straiton said. “For those who never had the opportunity and privilege of knowing Meg, you will be able to sense her elegant essence, vitality, and unique spirit by listening to the last track, her performance of Eartha Kitt’s original arrangement of ‘Santa Baby’ — recorded just 72 hours prior to her passing. Her own talent was simply extraordinary! She had a big role in it. After bringing the idea to her in spring, we divided up the work, me on the creative musical side, and she on the creative art, sales, and marketing side. We’re both grateful for the incredible support by the graphics and print team at Labels by Pulizzi, the Chamber, and the downtown merchants.”
This is the first time that Straiton has been involved in a project of this scope. He said it has been incredibly inspiring to work with so many old, and new, musical colleagues, some of which have been working together for almost 40 years! He said he is looking forward to seeing how they can further unify our wonderful musical community by hopefully reprising this project in 2019.
“The disc is available throughout the area, including downtown Williamsport businesses. With canvassing facilitated by the Williamsport Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and the Williamsport Business Association — both of these organizations have been superb in assisting us with this effort,” Straiton said. In addition, several other specialty stores (Willards, The Stereo Shoppe, AVU Goldsmith’s, Smith’s Jewelers in Montoursville), along with the Community Arts Center have requested copies to be placed in their stores. We’ve already had several businesses approach us for multiple copies to give as gifts to their employees for the holiday season.”