I spend anywhere from four to seven hours a day practicing the piano for the annual Portraits of White music extravaganza. The first year I decided to do the show, I prayed that God would confirm that His hand was in this adventure by leading me to a grand piano of my own.
If you’re going to spend that many hours practicing, it’s important to have a good piano to practice on. Every piano has a unique touch and feel. I wanted a piano that would make my muscles work hard and be ready for the grand piano we would rent for the show. Just like you don’t want to run a marathon without having spent a lot of time getting your muscles in shape, so you want your fingers to be ready for the show!
As we celebrate National Piano Month, it seems appropriate to tell the amazing story behind the piano that I now have in my studio. It all came about thanks to Portraits of White.
Ever since I was a young piano student and my piano teacher purchased a new baby grand piano, I could tell a big difference in the way the new grand played compared to her old spinet. From that moment, I began to dream of, wish for and beg God for one of my own.
I spent all of my life practicing on my Mother’s old Wurlitzer and was grateful to have it when my husband and I bought our first home.
In January of 2014, I asked my husband if this could be the year I could get a grand piano. Most of my music income has been invested back into my CD projects and building a career in music. Since I decided to move ahead with the first Portraits of White concert, I felt it was time to look for a baby grand. I knew I’d be spending lots of time at the piano preparing for this concert.
We agreed that this would be the year, determined a budgeted amount we could afford for a used grand and I prayed that God would lead me to the right one for me. Tom was going to talk to our man at the bank and see if we could get a loan.
I had been in counseling working through some issues and my counselor advised me to take up skating—knowing it was something I loved to do as a young girl. I took her advice and loved it so much, I hired a coach to work with every week. I skated a few hours a day, five days a week, I loved it so much!
The week after Tom and I decided to commit to finding a piano for me, I walked into the rink (around 6:00 a.m.) and my coach greeted me in his cheery British accent. (He had been Great Britain’s men’s figuring skating champion in 1989). He said, “You’re a musician, do you happen to know anyone looking for a grand piano?” I think my jaw must have dropped to the ground. But not for long! I eagerly said, “Yes, I AM!”
They were moving to London, England and their newly purchased grand (barely used) couldn’t go along. I went to their house and played it. We made an offer and they accepted. It was less than we budgeted and we didn’t need a loan!
On February 6, 2014—my Mother’s birthday, it arrived. Dare I mention that we were in the midst of a heavy snow when it came! Perfect for Portraits of White.
There are many times I sit down at this piano and thank God for the privilege to have one of my own (after 40 years!!) and with such a special back-story. Who would have ever thought taking up figure skating could lead to an answered prayer for a grand piano! Go figure.
If you want to come to the 2018 show, click HERE for more information.
We are offering 20% off all tickets September 24 – September 28, 2018 to celebrate National Piano Month.
Here’s what people have said about the 2017 show:
“I was in awe of the army of volunteers that helped make it all happen.”
“It’s unlike any other show I have gone to see. Combines that hometown feel with a professional show.”
“Portraits of White is the highlight of my Christmas season and I have traveled from Houston, TX the last 3 years for this spectacular performance. I would love for my entire family to be able to attend.”
“Attending Portraits of White is like opening your Christmas present early! Once you’ve gone once you’ll anticipate it all year and you’ll never guess what surprises are in store!”
“Portraits of White is an evening that allows me to push pause on the chaos that typically accompanies Christmas. I get to relax and relish the joyful wonder of the holiday season. Aside from our Christmas Eve candlelight services, Portraits of White is where Christmas happens in my heart.”
“Commercialization of Christmas has worn me down over the years to the point
of numbness, but Portraits of White has rejuvenated my heart again!”
Photos by STEPH ALEX Photography.
I’m Frances, a professional singer/songwriter from Newville, who almost gave up on Christmas. Fortunately, Christmas didn’t give up on me. I have encountered many people who resonate with this feeling about the holidays and I want to do something about it!
One of the big reasons I secretly dreaded Christmas was because as a young girl, I had tragically lost two siblings. Christmas called attention to their absence, and I simply didn’t know how to grieve their loss. I began to write songs about this journey — an audio journal of sorts — and years later, it turned into a Christmas album, called Portraits of White.
I wrote the title track while I was driving to Shippensburg on Route 997 (yes, I do write while I drive). The winter snow was blowing and drifting across the road and painting “portraits of white” throughout the Cumberland Valley. The playful song reflects my love for snow. Just like the dormant seeds that sprout after the blanket of winter snow has lifted, life sprung from the long, hard winter of my disenchantment with Christmas, and I found hope.
For the past four years, I have turned the album into a concert experience. With more than 30 other professional musicians on stage, including a live orchestra, singers, grand piano and guest conductor from Nashville, Tennessee, Portraits of White is becoming a holiday highlight in south-central Pennsylvania. There is truly no other show like it in the area.
Nashville based conductor, Ed Kee says, “Every year we make a special effort to ensure that the music for Portraits of White is unique and entertaining. We work hard to maintain the familiar melodies and the nostalgic feel of Christmas while presenting the music in a unique way that is new and creative but still leaves the audience with the warm, fuzzy Christmas feeling they expect that time of year.
We love offering hope over the holidays by sharing stories, humor and great music. This concert contains all of those elements and more! We’d love to have you and your family make Portraits of White a family tradition.
From the very first time I heard the arrangement, I was hooked. So was Ed, the conductor. We knew we wanted it to be part of the Portraits of White concert experience and Ed was sure it would be the showstopper of the night, if we could find a local high school drum line to perform it.
It took us all summer to find the right one, but it really paid off when we found George Clements and the West Shore Drum Line – a combination of two schools put together: Cedar Cliff and Red Land. We didn’t know they’d end up placing 3rd in 2015 and 4th in 2016 at the US Bands National Championships @ MetLife Stadium in NJ.
But this post isn’t really about finding the drum line or my concert. It’s my reflections after watching them perform the song at their own high school this week – Tuesday, December 20, 2016 – for their holiday program.
I don’t know what goes on in other performer’s minds when they are on stage. I can only write from my own experience. Perhaps it would be different if we performed the same concert over and over, night after night all across the U.S. Maybe I could stand on stage and become totally wrapped up in the moment and just enjoy all the surroundings. But for the most part, I do that when I’m practicing at home. That’s when I enjoy the music; every note, every lyric, every little nuance that many people might miss the night of the show.
When I step out on stage I go into a very different mode. I challenge every brain cell in my head with the ultimate multi-tasking job. The pitch, the dynamics, the lyrics, the sound surrounding me, the lights, the little girl smiling up at me from the first row and noticing others seated in the audience so I can smile at them and acknowledge their presence.
When you amplify all of that by adding in a drum line marching up to you on the stage and feel the power of their presence and tight rhythms and couple that with a year’s worth of rehearsing, soaking in the song and listening for every little cue in the music to keep you on track AND try to deliver with poise and power, you have one incredible task on your hands. To say that I can sit back and “enjoy” that performance is a stretch, not because I don’t love it, but because I MUST stay focused. As soon as I start “sitting back in my musical easy-chair” to recline, my brain can go into sleep mode and then I’m in trouble.
But last night, I got to sit in the audience and not think about the loops, the pitch, the timing, the mic, the monitor, the lights or anything else. I just sat in anticipation knowing what was coming and I was still blown away and totally mesmerized by the West Shore Drum Line. I got to sit beside a few of the moms and they too knew what was coming and one of them even squealed when the auditorium doors flew open and in walked her son at the head of the line.
My eyes filled with tears and my heart pounded. I knew I was reacting to months of rehearsals and hearing that first piano riff that starts it off. I was squirming over the memory of the big glitch from the concert of 2015 that forever sealed that song in the audience’s memory (in a good way) and then I was momentarily carried away by the overall power of the song. Now, I didn’t have to think about anything but watching them and they were truly amazing.
The cherry on top came when one of the mothers told me that the drummers were very excited that I had come to see them and wanted their picture with me afterwards. Since I don’t have children of my own, going to see others perform is such a special treat and for one short moment, I get to beam with pride just like I think a mother must do when her kids perform something so well.
There’s no deep point to this blog post, I simply indulged in expressing my thoughts so that some day I can look back and smile again at this amazing dream that is starting to connect me with other people in ways I never thought possible.
I’ll end with a quote from a book that’s carried me through this elephant-sized dream.
“By definition, a God-sized dream is beyond your ability, beyond your resources. If a dream is from God, it will require divine intervention. But I’ve also learned that sometimes a dream feels as if it’s too big for us because it’s not just for us!” – Mark Batterson, “Chase the Lion”.
Credits to Bradley Knight who arranged this song and to George Clements (Drum Line Director) who wrote the parts that the drummers play when they line up in formation.
The Portraits of White 2016 winter concert is over and my feelings are all mixed up this year. Last year, I felt nothing but joy and relief that the big event was over. It took more effort and time than I ever imagined and there was no “let down”, only “let up”. I loved every minute of it but was glad to move on.
But this year felt different. I struggled with both “let down” and “let up”, something I wasn’t prepared for.
As Ed (conductor) and I contemplate whether to do the show again next year, given the fact that it is a year-long marathon for us and for some of the team, I have to consider lots of variables – which contributes to the feeling of “let down”. Can I really pull this off year after year, I wonder to myself. But then I picked up TIME magazine at the library yesterday in preparation for what I planned to be a “do nothing” day today since they forecasted snow and ice.
It’s the first day I’ve done “nothing” for a very long time. Even when I try to “do nothing” I can feel and see the clouds of the snow monster (my nickname for Portraits of White) billowing in my head. I can’t truly unwind until the show is completely over. I’ve learned that’s the nature of pursuing dreams and callings. Doing the show is like enjoying the snow fall for a few short moments and then realizing you have to get up and start shoveling to clear a path so life can move on.
As I turned the pages of TIME, I was so struck by one of the articles, I put down the magazine and wrote out my thoughts in an email to Ed and realized I was actually writing a blog…..
So here it is:
Good morning Ed,
My laundry is done, house is clean and Christmas decorations are up and we are getting the wintry mix they called for – though I was hoping it would be snow. It feels nice to do nothing after a year of preparing for Portraits of White….the snow monster, as I affectionately call her now.
I picked up a few books for Tom at the library yesterday and a couple of the latest TIME magazines and decided to peruse the latest issue of TIME (something I rarely do). I was struck by an article featuring the most influential photos of all time. Page 80 has the caption: “How a picture can save 1.5 million lives” with the image of a woman who is barely skin and bones, in a wheel barrow, that is obviously dying but is being hauled to a feeding center. It was taken during the famine in Somalia in 1992.
As I turned the pages, they listed one image after another that illustrated how the image started a chain reaction of awareness or change, such as the photograph of the boy on the beach in Turkey in the refugee crisis. In a world of millions of selfies and social media posts, you can start to forget the powerful impact one image can have and TIME somehow reminded me of the potential of one photograph…which led to the realization that additionally, one song can have that kind of impact.
As much as I love to entertain people with the Portraits of White concert (and other concerts that I do) these pictures reminded me of what I REALLY want to accomplish with what I write and perform.
I want to create songs that serve as an “audio snapshot in time” that could potentially change someone’s course in life from despair to hope, from ignorance to awareness of God’s love for them, from hatred of the holidays to a realization that things can be different if they simply stop and Take Another Look.
My prayer today: “God, help me capture Your heart for people and display it with such starkness and wonder, that it could potentially save 1.5 million lives or more.”
I don’t know if a song or a photo can save 1.5 million lives, but I want to spend my life giving it a shot.
While “Portraits of White” includes all the trappings of an elegant Christmas concert–great music, a live orchestra, a beautiful and evocative venue–you will soon discover that it is much more than just another concert…
In “Portraits of White” singer/songwriter Frances Drost shares not only her talents and heartwarming original music, she also shares herself–her unique expressions of winter and of the holidays as rendered by her own experiences. And she does so with uncompromising artistry as well as refreshing honesty.
This year, “Portraits of White” will take place in a beautiful venue with larger capacity for seating and parking. Christ Community Church (only minutes from last year’s venue) will be hosting this wonderful event.
This year’s concert has yet another high quality line-up of top-notch musical entertainment on tap for this year’s show featuring a 25-piece orchestra and songs – vocal and instrumental – across multiple musical genres and styles. A hallmark of the “Portraits of White” series is the unexpected musical surprises programmed into the concert – and this year is no exception. And while there are plenty of great arrangements of familiar Christmas favorites, there are also several delightful new songs that will have you humming on your way out after the concert. From Robert Sterling’s beautiful and reflective “December Through My Window” to David Phelps’ dramatic “Joy, Joy”, “Portraits of White” promises to be an unforgettable night that will remind you why the music of Christmas brings so much added meaning to the season.
If you enjoyed last year’s concert, you will LOVE this year!