Burlington Civic Music presents Jim McDonough’s Holiday Grande

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

 Burlington, Iowa, Nov. 21, 2014 – Burlington Civic Music Association invites the public to celebrate the holiday season in style with Jim McDonough and his “Holiday Grande 2014.” The show is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10, at Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium. The show is sponsored by the Harry and Virginia Murray Foundation.

Now in its 11th year, McDonough's annual "Holiday Grande" concert tour has become a holiday tradition for thousands of families. The spectacular stage production includes McDonough at the grand piano, his 14-piece orchestra, a cast of singers and dancers, elaborate sets and costumes, and the spirit of the season.

The youngest of four children, McDonough was born in Monticello, Iowa. When he was 7, his mother grew too busy to continue taking piano lessons, so McDonough stepped in to fill the spot. He soon discovered a talent and love for music that propelled him into a professional music career.

McDonough’s road to success wasn't without detours. In eighth grade, an upright piano fell and crushed three fingers on his right hand. McDonough emerged from two hours of surgery with pins in his fingers and tiny fractures across his hand. Throughout more than a year of physical therapy, McDonough kept playing with a cast on his right hand and concentrated on improving his performance with his left hand.

Determined to play again, he devoted nearly every spare moment to regaining the dexterity in his right hand. The rigorous rehearsing worked, and in ninth grade, instead of a car, McDonough bought a Steinway grand piano to celebrate how far he'd come.

The night before McDonough left for college, a friend who dabbled in recording asked him if he would let him record a few songs. McDonough pushed aside his suitcases and sat at the piano, plinking out a few favorite tunes.

He didn't think of the impromptu recording session again until his family visited him at school with the news that his tape was selling throughout his hometown. McDonough parlayed the success of that first tape into a second, holiday-themed tape.

McDonough graduated from Wartburg College with a degree in Music Education, and he took a job as band director for the senior high school in Waukon, Iowa. After a year, he accepted a position at a larger school in LaPorte City, Iowa, and found himself directing two concert bands and two jazz bands, and offering private lessons.

Thrilled to be involved with music, but unimpressed with the politics of teaching, McDonough decided to pursue a nonmusical career. His sister, an air traffic controller, suggested he look into her profession.

After a six-month training program, McDonough began working in Chicago at the world’s largest air traffic facility. He had traded his piano keyboard for a computer keyboard, monitoring the flight patterns of hundreds of aircraft a day. But the high-stress world of airplane traffic wasn't filling the creative need that gnawed at McDonough.

 Far from home and his beloved Steinway, McDonough spent his off hours lingering at piano stores, pretending to be considering a purchase and playing as much as he could.

"Music was what defined me, and I had given it up," McDonough said. "It had almost vanished from my life."

In the summer of 2000, McDonough auditioned over the telephone for a two-week fill-in job on a cruise ship. The only catch: They needed someone immediately. Could he be on a plane at 6:30 a.m. the next day? He decided that it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up, so he used his vacation time from the air traffic center. He loved every minute of it, and the cruise line quickly offered him a full-time job on the largest cruise ship in the world.

After two years as an air traffic controller, McDonough decided to dive headfirst into playing piano professionally. For more than two years, he performed in cruise ship piano lounges and in an 1,800-seat dining room.

"I went from the most stressful job in the world to the least stressful job in the world," he said.

On break from the cruise line, McDonough recorded his first CD, “Requests,” which he sold to passengers when he returned to the ship. Dry land eventually beckoned, and in 2002, he moved back to Monticello to concentrate on producing and distributing his music. In fall 2003, he released his second album, a collection of holiday favorites called “Home for Christmas.” Since then, McDonough has produced 14 more CDs.

In 2010, piano maker Steinway and Sons named McDonough to its worldwide artist roster, which includes Irving Berlin, Harry Connick Jr., Billy Joel, Diana Krall and Cole Porter.

Those interested in attending “Holiday Grande 2014”may buy tickets at the Box Office at The Port of Burlington between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Tickets are also available online at www.TicketMaster.com.

Reserved season tickets for 2014-2015 are still available. Visit www.BurlCivicMusic.com, call 319-752-0336 or email Sales.Support@BurlCivicMusic.com, for more information.