Chilton County native hosts 12th Carnegie Hall Concert

Published 6:19 pm Friday, December 12, 2014

Chilton County native Randall Atcheson hosted his 12th Carnegie Hall concert on Dec. 2. (Contributed)

Chilton County native Randall Atcheson hosted his 12th Carnegie Hall concert on Dec. 2. (Contributed)

By RANDALL ATCHESON/For the Advertiser

During his early years while living in Maplesville, Cooper, Millbrook and Clanton, Randy Atcheson learned the Christmas songs he performed at Carnegie Hall, the world’s most renowned concert stage in New York City on Dec. 2.

The event was his 12th performance in Carnegie Hall, dating back to 1991 when his parents —the late Rev. and Mrs. Hymon Atcheson of Clanton and his brothers Gerald and Wayne with their families — sat in the Presidential Box, No. 33.

Through the years, Atcheson has performed the most famous classical piano pieces ever written including one that was totally Chopin, in honor of his 200th birthday. Atcheson began his professional training at Samford University while in the eighth grade and was serving as organist of Clanton’s First Baptist Church when he was 12. He attended Clanton public schools from the first grade through his senior year in high school.

He entered the famed Juilliard School of Music in 1971 at age 19 and is the only student to receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree in two instruments, piano and organ, in the history of the school.

For his 2014 performance, he chose to perform three major classical selections, and after the intermission, he thrilled the audience with 24 Christmas favorites, all of which he learned while growing up in Chilton County.

After performing the National Anthem and giving a salute to the American flag, Atcheson welcomed the audience and said his program was to “celebrate the reason for the season, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Atcheson began with “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman,” K.265, a piece written in the 1700s by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The famed composer took the simplest of tunes, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and embellished it 12 times over. It is a child’s song and literally translated it means “Ah, what would I tell you, Mommy.” The theme is played out once, then followed by 12 variations, each one distinct, yet never is the original theme lost or unrecognizable.

Then he performed “Pour le Piano” by Claude Debussy, a three-movement composition completed in 1894 consisting of Prelude, Sarabande, and Toccata that provides a Rachmaninoff-like climax. That was followed by perhaps the most famous piece written for piano, “Polonaise in A-flat major, Op.53” by Frederic Chopin.

No other city celebrates Christmas like New York City with its Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall Christmas Extravaganza with the Rocketts and amazing Christmas store displays. Atcheson did his part by performing his own arrangements of Christmas music on this New York December evening with 45-degree weather and with 700 excited people from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, California, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin and even Australia and Korea. Many find Atcheson’s concert a good reason to take in New York City at Christmas and get around in any one of 12,000 yellow cabs.

After performing his classical portion in a jacket with tails, white tie with red socks and glittering silver shoes, Atcheson came out after intermission with his bright red jacket with green slippers to the smiles, delight and applause of the audience. Atcheson began the sacred Christmas songs with “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

That was followed by “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “What Child is This” in one segment. Then everyone worshiped as he performed “O Holy Night” which was followed by “Joy To The World,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and concluded with “Angels We Have Heard On High.”

After a quick change to a lavender jacket, white slacks with red bow tie and red shoes, the audience was ready for more as he performed secular Christmas favorites. It started with “Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland” and then “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire,” “White Christmas and Sleigh Ride.”

Years ago while shopping at Walmart in Clanton, Atcheson said he got the idea for what he calls his “Walmart Medley.” So after telling the audience the story, he performed “The Christmas Waltz,” “Deck The Hall,” “The Holly And The Ivy,” “Up On The House Top,” “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “We Need A Little Christmas.”

After a standing ovation, Atcheson came out to play his first encore in a pink paisley jacket and white slacks with pink shoes and performed Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Ball of Fire” to the roar of the audience.

His second encore was back to his musical heart as he gave thanks to God by playing “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” He took his final bow by bringing out his and wife Laurie’s two-pound Shih Tzu named Merriweather that sent the audience back into the New York streets with great Christmas joy, elation and happy hearts as they had celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every Carnegie concert has followed with Atcheson’s reception across the street at Steinway Hall, the historic world headquarters for the Steinway Piano Company. What a magnificent setting with large original paintings of some of the greatest pianists and composers, plus some 40 pianos on display. Lots of hugs, photos, greetings and well wishes were passed with the happiest of Christmas spirit.

Among many special guests were Karlene Shea, the widow of gospel singer George Beverly Shea, who passed away in 2013 at age 104. Atcheson had the honor of playing the piano for his funeral service in Montreat, NC.

Before the doors were opened to the hall for the 8 p.m. concert, Atcheson placed a call as he sat on stage at 6:30p.m. to his good friend Cliff Barrows, Mr. Billy Graham’s beloved team member, in Charlotte and it was an inspirational and encouraging few moments for Atcheson as he gathered his thoughts and emotions to perform. The Shea’s and Barrows attended Atcheson’s first Carnegie Hall concert in 1991 and have remained dear friends.

It was another high honor for this Chilton County native to perform on a stage that has seen the world’s finest artists perform in the past 123 years. For his fans and admirers, he will be performing in Birmingham this spring and announcement of the date will be forthcoming.