ASO ushers in the holidays with special guests

Altoona Symphony Orchestra is ringing in the season with a holiday concert aiming to get the festivities started.

The orchestra and special guests will take the Mishler Theatre stage Saturday evening with “Home for the Holidays.”

The spirit of the concert is all encompassing.

“We are living in a society that is rapidly becoming more and more individualized. At ASO we are offering an event for everyone to come together to celebrate the holidays,” Maestra Teresa Cheung said in an email. “Because of our diverse backgrounds, the holidays could mean many different things to different people in different cultures. Yet I do believe as human beings we all want the same thing deep down: peace, love and joy.”

They will perform new and old favorites for the concert, she said.

Tap dancer and Penn State University student Joshua Johnson, who has appeared on the “Ellen Degeneres Show” and “Dancing with The Stars,” will also perform. He rose to fame as a Penn State Altoona student helping to put himself through college tap dancing on New York subways.

“He is such an inspiration to all,” Cheung said.

Johnson, 22, majoring in telecommunications, is in his senior year and is set to graduate in Dec. 2014, he said.

He is sleeping on a friend’s couch while going to school at the main campus after not having enough to pay for housing, he said.

“I had a choice to make. Pretty much either I stay home or come back to school and try to fight through senior year, so, right now I’m fighting.”

Johnson performed in the concert last year after Cheung reached out to one of his professors.

“I reached out to [Cheung] this year and I said, ‘Hey, I would love to do it again, if that’s all right,’ so that’s where I’m at” he said, noting that having the orchestra playing in the background while he taps is “an amazing feeling” and he is looking forward to performing with them Saturday.

Executive director Pamela J. Snyder Etters said last week the ASO’s “most popular show of the year” was almost sold out.

Frankstown Elementary School students directed by music teacher Mary Villani, and Bellwood-Antis Middle School students directed by music teacher Jennifer Wright will perform.

“The joys of Christmas are many including the opportunity to listen to the voices of young people singing Christmas and holiday songs. We hope that the students will help usher in the season and add a smile to everyone’s face. The students will enhance, for the audience, the performance of the symphony,” Wright said in an email. “The students love being in the show. The students see this as an opportunity to perform, to showcase their talent and to be part of an experience with professional musicians.”

The concert “is a wonderful educational outreach experience provided by Maestra Cheung,” Villani said in an email. “The love and appreciation of music begins at this very young age. This opportunity for them to use their voices, which are their own instruments, with a professional orchestra, hopefully will inspire them to keep music as an important part of their lives.”

Cheung hopes the concert helps “kick off the holiday season for our audience and let the celebration begin,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.