“Why did you start the show?” [Portraits of White]
“You said you want it to be a personal experience. Why does that matter to you?”
These two questions from a fan of Portraits of White are probably the most special to me of all the questions I’ve been asked.
Beyond the fancy dresses, wonderful musicians, spotlights and set design, there IS a very passionate longing in my heart when it comes to this beloved Christmas show. Basically…
How we experience Christmas matters to me. We all have a longing to find our “home,” especially during the holidays.
“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.” — L. Frank Baum (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
For years, I struggled with the holidays, emotionally. Thankfully, I had a physical home, but there was a sadness that seemed to plague me at Christmas.
In fact, I almost gave up on Christmas. Frankly, I secretly dreaded the holidays. Fortunately, Christmas didn’t give up on me. The more I share my own story, the more I seem to encounter others who have felt this way too…or perhaps, still do. My solution to this “problem” was to create a grand Christmas concert experience where people could come together and enjoy a professional show with a home-town feel.
Portraits of White had its debut in 2014 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with a SOLD OUT show. It has become a holiday favorite for many people who return every year for another dose of a meaningful musical experience.
One of the big reasons I had such an aversion to Christmas was because as a young girl, our family tragically lost two brothers and I never learned how to process the grief our family experienced. It always seemed especially tough at Christmas.
My brother, Nathan, drowned in our farm pond a few days after his second birthday, and another brother, Doug, (age 26) was killed in a tractor accident on a farm where he worked. He had a wife, two young daughters and three younger siblings. I was seven when the Pastor came to our farmhouse to tell my mother she lost her first-born son. That front-porch scene is forever etched in my mind.
As I got older, my struggle with sadness during the holidays only grew stronger. So in 1999, I decided to “skip Christmas” and ask God to reveal why I had such a hard time with the holiday season. Where was this “joy” the little baby in a manger was supposed to bring?
Months of quiet reflection that year began to reveal deep-seated, unprocessed grief. As I unwrapped this concealed package of heaviness, I was surprised to discover how far down I could stuff something in my little soul only to have it show up later in life in seemingly unrelated ways. But grief is a root that produces shoots of unwanted growth in so many areas if left unattended.
Through tears, quietness, prayer, and a re-examining of the original Nativity story, I started a healing journey. I found unusual solace in the fact that there were threads of sorrow in the story of the Christ-child. I had never noticed that until I viewed it through my own window of sadness. Once I identified the grief, then it seemed that joy was able to start growing, even if it was as slow as an oak tree.
As a songwriter, I guess it’s a natural progression to write songs as you process life (and death). So I started writing songs about my journey around the holidays and grief. Later, the story turned into an album—an audio journal of sorts. On the flip side of sadness, I also have a quirky side and a child-like love for snow that shows up in my songwriting. So the title track of my Christmas album, Portraits of White, seemed like the best title for my thoughts reflecting the winter seasons of my life, both the sad and the fun.
In fact, I wrote the title track while I was driving to Shippensburg, PA on Route 997 (yes, I do write while I drive—oops!) The fluffy snow was blowing and drifting across the road and painting “portraits of white” throughout the Cumberland Valley. The playful song reflects my life-time fascination with snow. Just like the dormant seeds that sprout after the blanket of cold winter snow has lifted, life sprung from the long, hard winter of my disenchantment with Christmas, and I found hope. I think this might also be why I loved snow. It always turned the dark barren winters into portraits of white…long before it was ever a song title in my mind.
With a vision to share my story and music with others who may have been touched by loss, I stepped out to follow my dream of putting together a professional concert each December. This year will be the eighth year for this BIG dream and every year is creatively different! In 2020, I had to get REAL creative when we all had to stay home. So I created a DVD and called it Portraits of White—At Home.
Along with other professional musicians from the South Central Pennsylvania region, we always combine humor, stories and inspiring music to offer hope during the holidays. This event has become a highlight of the Christmas season for many people.
Every year, the creative team I put together makes a special effort to ensure that the music for Portraits of White is unique and entertaining; working hard to maintain the nostalgic feel of Christmas while presenting music in a unique way that is new and creative but still leaves you with the warm, fuzzy Christmas feeling you expect during the holidays.
I love offering hope over the holidays by sharing stories, humor and great music. This concert contains all of those elements and more!
It’s 2013 and I am sitting in the beautiful American Music Theatre in the heart of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, watching a Christmas show with a group of seniors (50 and up) from my church. I am serving as the Director of Worship and somehow I am lucky enough to have been the recipient of a complimentary ticket at the last minute. This was a perk I didn’t see coming when I said yes to the job.
Normally, I spend my days at the church trying to plan a meaningful worship service, so taking a day trip on a fancy coach bus and eating a scrumptious Lancaster County meal with the church people I serve only adds to the pleasure of the trip. The Christmas show is the perfect ending to a wonderful day.
As the show finishes, I sit in my seat, in a state of shock. We didn’t go to see this kind of thing when I was growing up, so I am pretty mesmerized by the whole production; from the set to the musicians, lighting and sound. I love it all!
“THIS is what I want my Christmas show to be like. A professional show, with a personal touch.” Did I just say that out loud? I exit the building with the rest of our group and I am completely energized. My mind is racing with ideas. My body is riding home on the coach bus, but my brain is somewhere else…scheming about how to do my own show.
I can’t help it. I seem to have been born with the ability to come up with tornadic ideas. The kind that carry my brain off to a fantasy land while the rest of my household lives in a perpetual state of stress because of it. Just ask my cats…and my husband.
A tornado can be a violent outburst of emotion or activity like the planning of a Christmas show not just a violent rotating column of air, as in a potentially violent and destructive system of atmospheric circulation, characterized by a long, funnel-shaped cloud extending toward the ground and made visible by condensation and debris. Try saying that sentence three times real fast!
In the Wizard of Oz, it was a tornado that swept Dorothy (and her house) off her feet. When the twister stopped twisting and dropped her off in a new land, she thought she was over the rainbow. Dorothy sensed she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. She was hoping for a place where all of her dreams really would come true and where she could be free of trouble. Boy, was she ever in for a surprise. The house dropping on the witch was just the beginning.
I too was in for a whirlwind of a journey when I decided to turn my Portraits of White album into a show. I thought I was headed for a land of bliss and fantasy (well, almost.) It seemed like such a great idea!
However, I had a lot to learn. The reality of this learning curve struck me as soon as the conductor started explaining all that I’d need to do JUST to have the music ready for an orchestra. Oops.
In a nutshell, all I ever wanted to do was create an experience that would sweep people off their feet and carry them to a land without troubles…at least for one weekend in December. A professional show with a personal touch. In 2014, I set out to make the first one happen.
I knew I was accomplishing my mission when I started hearing people say they felt as if they were simultaneously attending a professional production and sitting in my living room having coffee with me. That’s exactly what I wanted people to experience.
So this seems like a good place in the story to address the next question on the list from someone who asked, “What do I tell other people when they want to know what Portraits of White is?”
Here is a collection of responses we’ve received from people who were asked how they would describe the show…
“It blew me away.”
“Portraits of White is a show that brings together a world-class entertainer and orchestra to tell a story of how one person came to love “the Heart of Christmas” again.”
“If a good show was a good meal, Portraits of White would be Thanksgiving.”
“I laughed, I cried, I sang, then I left wanting more!”
“A refreshing 2 1/2 hour escape!!”
“Carefully crafted, from the heart, warm and fuzzy, and entertaining…not your typical Christmas show.”
“Portraits of White will make you look at winter in a totally different way! Bring it on!”
“Equates to any professional show I have seen in New York, Gatlinburg and Dollywood at Christmas. Close to home and much cheaper.”
“A true work of art for any music lover.”
“No special effects needed.”
“A different Christmas experience. Not a Broadway production with the same thing over and over.”
“Christmas came to life at the concert today! Frances was full of the joy of the season without the artificial syrupy sweetness the world markets. We could sit back, smile, and enjoy the incredible musicianship of all the participants.”
“This concert will overflow your Christmas soul. Frances Drost is so personable and down to earth. She has a way of making you feel as though she’s one of your best friends. But on the other side of that, her talent is amazing and unbelievable. You will be so glad you attended and you will make mental plans already to attend next year.”
“What a variety of music and musicians! I left everything else outside and was just present with Frances and the performances. I left feeling filled!”
“It was a magical experience that celebrated Christmas with creativity. It was nice to attend a concert that wasn’t the traditional.”
“This show was a delightful experience for both eyes and ears, but the emotional and spiritual impact was phenomenal!”
“In the midst of a beautiful but frequently hectic season Portraits of White is like coming inside from the cold, and sitting down by a fire with a mug of hot cocoa, a cozy blanket and your best friend to enjoy it with.”
“Professional production with a personal touch.”
“The show is a very real testimony of the performer’s background and their lives shared with the audience. Frances never fails to inspire and encourage the dreams of others and age incorporates all types of musicians, singers, and different backgrounds to perform. I love the openness and honesty of Frances and that she is not afraid to share the good and bad with others, which speaks to me very personally and I so appreciate this!”
“Special, different from the run of the mill holiday shows.”
“A breath of fresh air. Down to earth.”
“It’s like nothing else you have seen before. You will come away wanting more.”
“A beautiful way to enhance your Christmas celebration. It’s been a part of ours for four years.”
“It will inspire you, entertain you, even bring peace. You will go away feeling better than you came.”
“One of the best holiday concerts I have ever attended.”
“Portraits of White is delightful! Great musicians leave you well entertained with their skill. Yet I find I see beyond the musicality into the true meaning of Christmas, of Christ’s birth and the reality of his love that can be afforded to those around us at Christmas time and throughout the year. Lay aside the hustle and bustle to engage your heart at Christmas.”
“A variety of musical performances by many talented artists. It never got boring!”
“This show is a wonderful way to find your Christmas heart! Francis finds a way to touch each person there and create a special aura of joy and wonder. Part of our new Christmas traditions!!”
“If you enjoy Christmas music, and are a Christmas addict like I am, I mean… everything about it, You must see Portraits of White!”
“It’s truly a worship experience with a high degree of professionalism and a home town feel.”
“It was entertaining and warmed my heart. I felt like I was part of the show.”
“Highly entertaining, top-shelf musicianship, enough feel-good feelings to go around twice.”
“This concert gives you a reason to go home and continue to get ready for the celebration of Christmas!!”
“We are grateful for the performance that touched our hearts and minds and created a sacred pause during Advent.”
“This concert is a snowy wonderland way to experience the Christmas Season. It is not Christmas without Portraits Of White.”
“The atmosphere of the community of the musicians, recognizing them, featuring them and their talents – for me it made everyone feel like a “village” experience.”
“I felt cared for from the moment I walked in the door.”
“A wonderful performance perfectly constructed to lift up a weary spirit and remind us of the real reason for the season.”
“If you’re tempted to give up on Christmas, this concert will restore your joy!”
“A non-stop blitzkrieg of Christmas blessings.”
“It is a wonderful experience of music, some familiar Christmas music, some original to Frances, wonderful professional arrangements of Christmas music – special to Frances’s concert – so that one is consistently hearing new music. I like the acoustic direction this year’s concert took – so much intimacy with music. So wonderful to have the quality of professional musicians as well as feeling like we’re getting to know Frances more.”
“If you imagine that you are ‘Christmas prepared’ you aren’t until you experience Portraits of White. I doubled my guests this year and hope to double them again next year! Totally unique Christmas experience.”
“Portraits of White has become a holiday staple for me. I have found it to be a wonderful way to curtail the chaos of Christmas for an evening and focus my heart on the true beauty of the season. In addition, the show is such an amazing showcase of local talent. Frances makes everyone a star for the night! And because she so artfully draws attention to the giftedness of herself and others, she is able to weave the wonder of heaven into a rockin’ holiday show without ever making it awkward or obnoxious.”
“The decorations, flow, talent, humor, etc. all hit just the right notes! This was my first Portraits of White concert and I have already noted my calendar for next fall to order tickets.”
“Nothing on earth is perfect, but this concert comes close to attaining the label!”
“The entire show just spoke to my heart and moved me like no other service or show.”
“Portraits of White is the quintessential Christmas music performance, with beautiful, harmonic vocals surrounded by the ultimate orchestra and conductor, Frances shines brightly!”
“This show is fantastic! High-quality production and AMAZING regional and national talent! Attend once and you will want to make it an annual tradition!”
“It touched my heart and reminded me of why this season is so magical.”
“An awesome night of entertainment. From laughing to crying and feeling all warm inside. It’s worth it.”
“This show has become the highlight of the Christmas season for me. Frances Drost is so talented yet down to earth that she warms your heart with both her singing and piano playing as well as sharing her life’s ups and downs.”
“Professional quality show with a nice mix of Christmas music performed by accomplished musicians. The star of the show is Frances Drost, who has worked hard to bring her childhood dream come true to offer a Christmas program that is family friendly, fun and inspirational. From the lovely stage set to the talented orchestra, to the wit and humor from Frances, you won’t go away disappointed.”
“Portraits of White is an amazing show with an extraordinary performance that is sure to get the audience into the holiday spirit. In my opinion, the quality of the musicians is on a scale comparable to any professionally done show performed by well know musicians in the business. It is a show well worth attending!”
“This is THE concert to usher in the Christmas holiday season. Frances is so talented, and she mixes her own originals with classics! There are fantastic soloists and singers. It is top notch! Frances is so funny, yet she mixes in a vulnerability that makes her so real and makes it ok to mix sad with joy.”
It all starts with a dream, as some say. Nashville says it all starts with a song. Either way, if it’s a dream, you have to get out of bed and get dressed. If it’s a song, you have to get out your pencil and paper, or at least your recorder. Then you might want to play it for other people, put it on an album, put it out on iTunes. You can’t just lay around and “think” about these things.
Every year I dream of doing a Christmas show, and beginning in January, I know that December is coming and my show won’t happen with my head on a pillow dreaming about it. I can hear Auntie Em telling Dorothy “there’s work to be done.”
One element of planning a show is deciding how to tell other people about it. You can’t just hope that people will show up. “If you build it” a few might come, but just building it isn’t enough.
One day as I was brainstorming on the phone with a coach about all that there is to do, including the marketing, he said, “Why don’t you bring your audience in on the planning of the show. Give them a peek into the planning part.”
So I got to thinking; I wonder what my audience would want to know about planning a Christmas show. Instead of me trying to guess, why don’t I just ask them? I did and people responded.
Sorting through the questions, one in particular, catches my eye. I squirm in my office chair. I always struggle when someone asks this question: “What is your favorite song on the album?”
The problem is, it’s hard to pick one favorite. Songs are three-minute audio journals of my life. Each song has a unique significance and is part of the whole.
Though the question wasn’t specifically about the show, it’s a good question because the show actually started with a song. Ok, so Nashville was right. It really does start with a song.
It was a wintery January morning in 2000 and I was on my way to a local recording studio to record my first album. The snow was blowing and drifting across Route 696 in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania—a scenic road between two mountain ranges. I probably shouldn’t have been driving.
But I was in my element…SNOW!
The first line said it all…
Whispery winds of winter white
The blizzard-like winds seemed to applaud my bravery for driving in these conditions…
Dancing across the starlit night
Twirling and swirling and sweeping the lane
Whisking the blues of the season away
These are the portraits of white
I knew it [the song] was special the day I wrote it. I could hear the polished production of it in my head. Even though it would be years before I’d actually record it, I knew it would sound Enya-esque. I had just encountered the music of Enya, and her stacked vocal approach resonated with me. Every time I’d listen to her, I wanted to sit down and write music.
Years later, when I decided to record a Christmas/Winter album this song was a definite favorite. I learned to respect Enya’s music all the more during the process of recording. It’s not easy to stack vocals. You must follow every single intonation and nuanced note of the original take each time you sing a new take. For some reason, I really enjoyed the challenge of this style of recording.
When it came time to choose a title for the Christmas album, Portraits of White felt the most magical. Portraits of White, both the song and the title would become the inspiration for my holiday show. If that makes it my favorite song on the album, then so be it.