What Really Matters, Dorothy?

“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. 

Portraits of White 2019

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!

So there you have it…the long answer.

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