Nine-year-old Bloomfield Hills resident Ava Gregory has helped spread holiday cheer this Christmas season by performing for family and friends on the family’s grand piano.

Nine-year-old Bloomfield Hills resident Ava Gregory has helped spread holiday cheer this Christmas season by performing for family and friends on the family’s grand piano.

Photo provided by Pamela Gregory

Holiday music provides a soundtrack for the season

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published December 12, 2018

METRO DETROIT — According to the Christmas classic, there’s no place like “Home for the Holidays.”

For many, being at home with holiday music playing in the background sets a festive mood for decorating the Christmas tree, baking trays of cookies or relaxing with a chilled glass of eggnog after a day of gift shopping.

There is an assortment of Christmas songs — from the religious to the traditional to the slapstick — that can perk up any “Blue Christmas” and bring “Joy to the World.”

Does hearing “Carol of the Bells” bring a sense of the season, or do the sounds of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, bring back memories of childhood? Do you “Step Into Christmas” with Elton John, or feel nostalgic for the 1980s when your Spotify cues “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band-Aid, or “Christmas Wrapping,” by the Waitresses, while opening presents?

For Lora Pilarski, a teacher at Cromie Elementary School in Warren, there is one song that carries special meaning this time of year: “Suzy Snowflake,” by Rosemary Clooney.

“My mom played this song every holiday season since I can remember,” Pilarski said in an email. “We would sing together. She had the tape so we could play it over and over. However, anytime we heard it come on the radio, that was especially exciting.”

To this day, Pilarski still knows the lyrics by heart. “Suzy Snowflake” is a song about a snowflake named Suzy — dressed in a snow-white gown — looking to make a snowman or go on a sleigh ride with the kids in town.

“It is a fun little song, catchy tune. I just loved singing it with my mom. What I like most about the song now is the feeling it gives me when I hear it. Takes me back to great times with my family,” Pilarski said. “I still love to hear it, though they hardly ever put it on the radio. I really think the memories I have with it are what make it stand out. … Spending time with family. The excitement and anticipation of the holiday. Hopes for a white Christmas. Being young and stress-free.”

Tom Torrento, his wife and three children — with a fourth on the way — have had their holiday favorites playing on repeat on Apple Music and Pandora at the family home since mid-November. The house is filled with the merry music of Michael Bublé, David Phelps, and crooners Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bing Crosby.

“I grew up in a house that had music on all the time. My wife did as well,” said Torrento, director of bands at Grosse Pointe North High School and Parcells Middle School in the Grosse Pointe Public School System. “We’re carrying on the tradition of music playing all year-round.”

As a kid, Torrento’s dad “had a bunch of records he would pull out every year” for the family to enjoy at Christmastime. One staple was anything by the brother-and-sister duo the Carpenters, which Dad played on the turntable.

“I think that’s part of the joy, listening to music. It transports you back to your childhood,” Torrento said. “It makes you feel warm and fuzzy. It puts you in a better mood.”

Oh, and there’s one more must-have of Torrento’s.

“I love the ‘White Christmas’ soundtrack,” he said. “It’s got holiday music and old jazz standards. It’s kind of an eclectic mix.”

At the Bloomfield Hills home of Pamela and Russell Gregory, it’s their 9-year-old daughter, Ava, providing the holiday musical soundtrack this year. Ava has taken singing lessons and learned how to play violin and recorder at school. She is now learning piano by ear — a trait from her father — and has been entertaining family and friends by performing Christmas music on the family’s white Schimmel grand piano, decked out with a Christmas tree next to it. The family dog, Jojo, also is a fan.

 “We are not sure how it really started, but she sits down and plays fluently. She’ll tinker with the keys for a bit to get the notes, but then all of a sudden she places both hands on the keyboard and sings a beautiful song to the piano accompaniment,” Pamela Gregory said via email. “It seems like a gift. She’s been gravitating to the piano every day now, and it lifts our spirits around the holidays, as we are decorating, to hear her angelic voice singing while playing the piano.”

Ava favors George Michael’s version of “Last Christmas” and is always ready to belt out “Jingle Bells” to get everyone to sing along.