A Seventh-day Adventist Organization

Christmas program at LLU Children’s Hospital blends the zany and the sublime

Harpists Claire Elias and Emily Linlo at the Carols in the Lobby event.

As they have for the last 10 years, members of the Big Hearts for Little Hearts Loma Linda Guild brought a joyful mix of Christmas music and inspiration to the patients of Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital during the Carols in the Lobby program, held Monday, December 12, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. This year, however, the program featured elements of slapstick comedy as well as sublime musical artistry.

Guild President-elect Lynn Sleeth served as mistress of ceremonies for the event. Sleeth, who comes from the field of education, got a laugh from the crowd when she introduced Scott Perryman, MBA, as vice principal before catching her mistake and correctly identifying him as senior vice president and administrator of Children’s Hospital.

Perryman thanked everyone for coming, thanked the guild for bringing the event to the hospital, and noted that for the second year in a row, the program was being videotaped for broadcasting into patient rooms in both the adult and children’s hospitals.

Carol Troesch, longtime member of the guild’s board of directors, offered the invocation and asked Jesus to send His Spirit into the hearts of everyone in attendance.

Lioness, a singing group composed of five enthusiastic girls from Loma Linda University Church, took center stage after the prayer. Accompanying themselves on two guitars, the girls performed a variety of contemporary and traditional favorites, inviting the audience to join them on the first verse of “Silent Night.” Lioness proved to be skillful musical arrangers as well as performers: the medley “Winter Mashup,” is their own arrangement. The group concluded its 25-minute set with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Lioness was a hard act to follow, but that didn’t deter nine-year-old Internet sensation James Naibaho in the slightest. The talented vocalist sang with gusto and precision, reflecting a classical musical education that befitted his very professional appearance in dark suit and maroon shirt. James is actually something of a child prodigy with a string of YouTube videos to his credit as both singer and pianist. His appearance left no doubt about the depth of his talent or the priority he ascribes to his music.

The performers who took the stage after James could take a lesson in professional grooming and decorum from him. Mark Holm and his three crazy cousins—Doug Mace, Roy Ice, and Aaron Lay—apparently didn’t read the apparel memo. Oh, sure, Holm looked appropriate in his black tuxedo, white shirt, and red bow tie and kerchief, but his “cousins” wore flannel pajama suits with zany holiday motifs. Mace looked craziest of all thanks to a set of oversized false teeth that protruded from his upper jaw like mule molars, lending an aura of “aw shucks!” lunacy to the outfit.

Although the cousins looked ridiculous, they did have talent. As Holm accompanied on guitar, the quartet belted out a zesty rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.” Then Mace invited the other members of the ensemble to get out their slider whistles. The loopy tones of the whistles accentuated a bizarre performance of “Silver Bells.” Midway through the song, Mace interrupted to instruct the boys to hand out kazoos to members of the audience. Then, with Holm on guitar, Ice on accordion, Lay on cajon, and Mace on recorder, the group led the audience in a robust performance of “Oh Come, all Ye Faithful” for kazoo and chamber ensemble. After several more numbers, the group closed with a commendable performance of “O Holy Night.”  

Next up was Jared Wareham, a 33-year-old pianist with Down Syndrome. In addition to music, Jared holds gold and silver medals in downhill skiing from the Special Olympics and excels in archery and swimming. His infectious smile endeared him to members of the audience, who clapped enthusiastically as he played two numbers—the first a solo piece, and the second a duet in which his mother, Dorothy Wareham, played a series of staccato flourishes on the high notes. When the performance ended, Jared waved to the audience, grinning triumphantly.

Following Jared’s performance, brother and sister piano duo Gian and Keziah Villlanueva delivered a powerhouse display on the keyboard. The pair seated themselves at the piano and unleashed a firestorm of dazzling virtuosity, showcasing an amazing command of difficult four-handed passages in classical style. The energy, emotion, and psssion the pair brought to each piece led this reporter to believe that these kids will one day make names for themselves in the world of music. Even though he's only 11, Gian is a member of the Heralds of Hope Men's Chorus. Dorothy Wareham, accompanist for the group, says the adults in the ensemble have trouble catching up to the speed at which Gian masters new songs and techniques. Keziah is nine years old.

For the last three years, sisters Kaitlin and Miranda Mattson have brought their musical talents to the event. Although both were scheduled to appear this year, only Miranda showed up. Kaitlin, a sophomore at California Baptist University in Riverside, had come down with laryngitis the day before. Undaunted, Miranda grabbed her ukulele and went solo, singing a winsome version of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” Miranda, a freshman at the same university, then launched into a lilting arrangement of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” One of the things guests have come to expect from the Mattson sisters is the wholesome image they project and their friendly camaraderie with the audience. This year, Miranda did a fine job of holding the fort all by herself.

The last musical group of the evening had never played together before this event. Harpists Claire Elias and Emily Linlo performed “O Holy Night” on two full-sized harps. The talent, dedication, and hours of practice that each member of the duo brought to the task turned the hymn into a paean of majesty and beauty. They then turned their attention to a number of holiday hits, both sacred and secular, including perennial favorite “What Child is This?” Throughout their set, the performers traded rhythm and lead responsibilities back and forth, festooning the ancient melody with shimmering glissando runs that formed the audio equivalent of sparkling icicles. They concluded with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

As the event drew to a close, Jillian Payne, assistant vice president for philanthropy, thanked attendees, performers, and planners, singling out Lynn Sleeth, Sandi Herrmann, Leigh Anderson, Carol Troesh, the Big Hearts for Little Hearts Loma Linda Guild, and corporate sponsor Lexus of Riverside. Visible moved, Payne reported that the event had touched her heart. She concluded with a prayer before dismissing the crowd, reminding the children in attendance to get their picture taken with Santa and to help themselves to gifts and refreshments members of the guild had provided.

The Big Hearts for Little Hearts Loma Linda Guild was founded in 1999 by Eloise Habekost, Nancy Varner, and Dixie Watkins to raise funds and awareness for Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. The guild sponsors a number of activities for hospitalized children and has raised more than $1.6 million for the children of the Inland Empire and Desert regions. More information about the guild is available online at  http://childrens-hospital.lomalindahealth.org/foundation/guilds/loma-linda-guild