Julia Bronneberg explained how she experienced the soaring sounds of Christmas carols and holiday music at a concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on Wednesday at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in Buffalo.

She pointed to her feet.

Through rhythmic vibrations thump, thump, thumping from the shiny floor of the gymnasium where both the orchestra and the audience sat, the students at St. Mary’s felt the sounds of Christmas.

Marking the 26th time the BPO has performed at St. Mary’s, the concert has become the official kickoff to the holiday season for the BPO. All of the musicians donate their time for the performance.

“This is one of the most special concerts we do all year long,” conductor Paul Ferington said.

Bronneberg was one of two dozen students who performed carols with the orchestra as part of the school’s Sing and Sign Chorus.

She said she especially enjoyed doing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”


“Because I like it,” she signed. “I don’t know.”

For the BPO, Ferington selected compositions and songs to perform for the children that have especially “rhythmic qualities,” he said.

“They connect with anything percussive,” he explained.

“March of the Toys” from Babes in Toyland. “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” A Holst piece written for a school.

And, of course, Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker."

To help bring the music to life for the deaf children, students from the Royal Academy of Ballet danced to the Nutcracker selections, dazzling the young children with their graceful movements.

Before the concert started, some of the students were invited to meet the musicians and place their hands on the instruments as they were played.

“They like to touch the buttons, too,” said Geoff Hardcastle, a trumpet player with the BPO who had the children put their hands inside the bell of his instrument while he played.

“The tuba was the No. 1,” he said.

“That was the favorite,” said fellow trumpet player Phil Christner.

St. Mary’s Principal Jane Schlau said the concert is “an amazing experience” for her students.

“This is hands-on sound,” she said.

Nicholas Barrus couldn’t have agreed more.

“I like it because it’s awesome,” the fifth-grader said.

His favorite part was singing and signing Christmas songs with the orchestra, he said.

Nicholas did a little demonstration.

He pointed his forefingers up and stretched his thumbs out to form the shape of an L.

He then lightly tapped the fingers to the thumb nine times.

And that, he said, is how you “fa-la-la-la-la” in sign language.