- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

Old traditions were honored and new ones made Monday at the Choral Arts Society’s annual holiday concert and supper dance. About 600 guests came to hear the 170-strong choir and participate in singing familiar yuletide favorites in the Kennedy Center’s nearly packed Concert Hall. The twist this year was the theme “Christmas Down Under.” Who would have thought the Australians had their own special carols?

“I spent the early years of my life in Australia and never heard any of those tunes,” commented Alice Sessions on her way into the post-concert gala at the spectacularly renovated Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

Well, never underestimate the Aussies.

Choral Arts Society Music Director Norman Scribner complied in every way. First by presenting three homegrown 20th-century carols and then by fiddling with an old favorite in the encore, substituting a locally appropriate ending in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Merrily did the audience warble “Five platypi; four koala bears; three kangaroos; two parakeets; and a kookaburra in a gum tree.”

“They didn’t sing the line ‘six sharks a-circling,’ possibly afraid that it would scare tourists,” acknowledged Australian Ambassador Michael Thawley, confirming that, indeed, his countrymen do add many of their special creatures into the mix.

Benefit chairwoman Margaret Alexander Parker and her crew raised more than $350,000 and carried the theme through with a vengeance. During cocktail hour, a trio of musicians played the native didgiridoo, a wind instrument made from a eucalyptus tree carved out by termites. The menu included Australian lamb, wine and even the creamy Pavlova dessert so dear to palates Down Under.

The silent auction, always one of the best on the city’s fund-raising scene, featured jewelry, furs, a golf cart and luxury trips among the many items. Blackout dates (when certain travel restrictions are in effect) didn’t stop TV weatherman Bob Ryan and wife Olga from making the winning $10,000 bid on a crossing of the new Queen Mary 2.

VIPs included star tenor Carl Tanner; the Norwegian, Spanish and Finnish ambassadors; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; former U.N. Ambassador Tom Pickering; U.S. Ambassador to Morocco Margaret Tutwiler; newsman Chris Wallace (now at Fox and loving it); lawyer Brendan Sullivan; and businessmen Jon Ledecky, Raul Fernandez, Robert Haft and Ken Bajaj.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge held forth in a typical Washington “power corner” with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and former FBI and CIA Director William H. Webster during much of cocktail hour

In a mood to celebrate after the capture of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Ridge credited the “great victory” of the troops in Iraq as well as President Bush’s “patience and persistence” in preparing the nation for a long-term engagement against terrorism.

“I don’t know what cave Osama bin Laden is living in, but I’ll bet somebody gets a message to him that he’s next,” he said before joining wife Michelle in a lively romp on the dance floor as the sounds of “Never Can Say Goodbye” played on into the night.

Ann Geracimos and Kevin Chaffee

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