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Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel welcomes the Christmas season with holiday classics

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Tommy Emmanuel | Photo provided
  • Tommy Emmanuel | Photo provided

Tommy Emmanuel keeps things fresh.

“This is my Classics & Christmas Tour,” Emmanuel recently told Oklahoma Gazette. “The first half of the show, I play a lot of my original songs. The second half of the show is all Christmas.”

The Australian guitar player returns to Oklahoma Dec. 14 and performs 8 p.m. at Rose State College Hudiburg Chevrolet Center in Midwest City.

During the Christmas portion of the set, Emmanuel performs with Pat Bergeson, Annie Sellick and John Knowles, with whom he has also made the album Christmas Memories, released Oct. 28.

“I very rarely work within an ensemble situation, but I enjoy it,” Emmanuel said. “These folks are very dear friends of mine, and we’ve worked together a lot over the years. … We’re showcasing a lot of stuff from the new Christmas album, and there’s a lot of original songs on there.”

Featured songs include “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” along with classic American Christmas songs.

Perhaps in a reversal of the traditional order of things, Christmas Memories came from Emmanuel’s time on the road.

“Last year, we decided to do a Christmas tour, and I put it together with John and Pat and Annie,” he said. “It went so well on the road and we just had such a good chemistry that we worked out some more songs. I decided to go straight in the studio after the tour.”

Emmanuel said they video recorded the recording process and also will record two tour shows for a DVD they hope to release at a yet-to-be-decided date.

“There’s going to be a real awareness of how we work and how honest and open it is,” Emmanuel said. “It’s really about everybody having a lot of fun and check your troubles in at the front door and forget them.”

When Emmanuel plays solo, he doesn’t work from a prescribed set list.

“In the first set, I change it up every night,” Emmanuel said. “A lot of it depends on how you are feeling.”

Emmanuel’s looser set approach means he can also adjust to how each audience reacts.

The musician’s job as an entertainer can also be one rich with meaning and significance, perhaps even one of healing.

Emmanuel said he was in Oklahoma shortly after 9/11 and he adjusted the show in reaction to the tragedy.

“I found a couple of poems … that I could read about faith and hope and that everything would be all right,” he said.

Melodic meaning

Emmanuel’s passion for music came at an early age, and it never waned.

“I started playing guitar when I was 4,” he said. “I was interested because my mother was always singing and playing.”

After Emmanuel’s mother gave him a 3/4-size guitar and showed him how to play chords, he was hooked.

“That was really all it took,” he said. “It kind of lit a fire in me.”

Music was a collective affair during his youth.

“By the time I was 6, we had a band established,” Emmanuel said. “We were playing as a group and we were on TV and doing radio shows.”

After all these years, Emmanuel often performs solo but remembers his roots.

“I think like a band, and I write that way, but I can play it all on the solo instrument,” he said. “I try to write in a way as if it’s for a singer in a band, but when I play solo, it sounds complete. If I feel I’ve got a good idea and I’m excited about it, then I’ll try to see it through. I’ll just use whatever I can to make the song come to life.”

Although Emmanuel said he doesn’t describe himself as a lyricist, he does have mental words that accompany just about every song.

“I definitely have certain ideas that pop into my head, particularly if it’s songs about my kids or somebody I know,” he said. “I’ll sing their name in the song, somehow, to myself.”

One such name might possibly be that of Emmanuel’s daughter, born last year.

Emmanuel had been writing his most recent fully solo album, 2015’s It’s Never Too Late, on the road.

When his daughter was born, he responded by writing that song.

Whether writing about his life or Christmas, Emmanuel knows how to communicate through music.

“I write instrumental music, but I’m still telling stories,” he said. “Even though there may be no words, the story still unfolds musically.”

Print headline: Sound drama, Guitarman Tommy Emmanuel tells stories without words on his upcoming Classics & Christmas Tour.

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