Bringing the Christmas spirit to the Great Place, the Williamson County Symphony Orchestra performed its 2019 free concert series Saturday at Howze Auditorium.

Nearly 600 people attended the free concert, taking the night to dress up and spend the evening at the orchestra. Now in its 18th season, this year’s concert was titled “Christmas Dances,” with the orchestra performing Christmas classics and original songs that make people want to sway in rhythm to the music.

The conductors shared personal stories, which made people laugh and recall funny Christmas stories from their own past. Conductor Frank Simon said he always makes a point of performing for the troops.

“The troops themselves, and their families, are under a tremendous amount of pressure now,” Simon said. “I think anything that can break that stress and give them a moment to think about something else is a good thing.”

Before conducting his original composition “Winter Serenade” for the first time ever, guest conductor Dr. M.L. Daniels shared a funny story from his childhood about why he knows Santa Claus is still alive. Daniels had the entire audience laughing, before turning his attention to the music and then forgetting the name of his own song, causing the audience to erupt into laughter again. His excuse? His wife named the song.

“I enjoyed the performance of Dr. Daniels’ piece,” Staff Sgt. Adam Carmody, a tuba player for the 1st Cavalry Division Band, said. “I always enjoy hearing original work.”

Carmody, who serves as a drum major and brass quintet leader in the band, was pulled from the audience as a guest conductor during the concert, conducting “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson.

“I love conducting. I don’t get to do it often, so when I do, I enjoy every moment,” Carmody said. “It was an amazing experience being in front of so many talented musicians.”

The Williamson County Symphony Orchestra was formed in 2002 under the name Hill Country Community Orchestra, out of Round Rock. The orchestra was originally established by members of Austin’s Anderson Mill Baptist Church, to provide an outlet for non-professional adult musicians and talented students to perform in a dedicated orchestra environment. As the orchestra grew in popularity, they decided to combine musicians from multiple churches to create one large orchestra.

The 89-member orchestra performs a free concert series annually throughout Central Texas. Upcoming concerts include one at Saint Margaret Mary Catholic Church, 7:30 p.m. Friday in Cedar Park and at Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Austin.

Heading into the last few weeks before Christmas, the 1st Cav. Div. Band will also be performing two free concerts. “Christmas with the Cav” will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at Grace Christian Center in Killeen and at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at Lea Ledger Auditorium at Copperas Cove High School.

Carmody said the concerts will feature a variety of music, including big band pieces, traditional and contemporary favorites, with several guest vocalists.

“There is a little something for everyone,” he said. “It will be extremely entertaining.”