Kurt Metzger is an I.T. consultant in the Twin Cities, but after hours, you will find him sitting in his living room at his 1900 Steinway piano, composing, singing and getting texts from his 16-year-old daughter in the bedroom above, telling him to “keep it down.”
“It’s my passion,” Metzger says of his songwriting, and, for the past six years, his gift of song has been transformed into a concert series called The Warmest Christmas, perfect for warming hearts at the onset of yet another brutal Minnesota winter.
In the Beginning
Metzger originally took piano lessons beginning at age 7, then switched to trombone. Throughout his formative years, he dabbled on the keyboard, keeping his interest relatively secret. But when, during a 2008 discussion with coworker Margie McGuire, Metzger’s hidden talent was revealed, she insisted on hearing him play and immediately declared, “You have to do a concert.”
“That was in November, so a Christmas concert seemed like a natural choice,” Metzger says. McGuire suggested the name and it stuck.
In the meantime, Metzger called upon help from a friend, Jonathan Kirkham. “I’ve known Kurt for probably 20 years,” Kirkham says. “He can ad-lib anything [and] had been writing music in various forms for years,” so when Metzger called to propose a holiday concert at St. Paul’s Landmark Center that same year, Kirkham was on board immediately. (Kirkham is an unofficial “right-hand man” and co-producer, Metzger says, helping with everything from marketing to event logistics.)
Right away, Metzger started writing and composed an original song for the concert, also called “The Warmest Christmas,” which is now the finale at every concert. Composing a new song each year became a tradition, performed along with arrangements of classic carols. “Those first couple years I was really sticking to the ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ kind of stuff, but then I realized I wanted to have more fun with this,” Metzger says. So now, along with classic Christmas hymns are more secular carols like “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas.”
Also in those first couple of years came some learning experiences. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” Metzger says. In the first two years, “I had two concerts, thinking, ‘Just tell people, and they’ll come,’ but that’s not true!” There’s a lot of effort that goes into making a successful concert, he says, noting that Kirkham has been extremely helpful in the annual performance’s survival.
In the third year, Kirkham found a new venue: St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church in Plymouth. (Just a few minutes from Metzger’s home, it’s capable of seating 700 people; the duo was able to fill it to 500 two years ago.) But despite the success, last year they decided to change things up again. A past locale, Theodore Wirth Park, boasted a chalet with an upstairs room and cathedral ceilings, an English Tudor design style and a huge fireplace—Metzger and Kirkham launched into plans for a series of “living room” concerts. Over three nights, nearly 300 people showed up for the intimate affairs.
The Sound of Musicians
Concerts haven’t always comprised just Metzger and his piano, however; he makes a point of involving other local artists.Then there are his equally talented, musical kids who, though three of them are living in Utah, return for Christmas and these shows. Together, they are two violinists and two cellists, and come up on stage to perform Metzger’s favorite arrangement of “Away in a Manger.”
“They get up and join the professionals, and suddenly you have this little orchestra,” he says. “Usually, it brings tears to my eyes.” But as they get older, it is getting harder to keep traditions like this one alive. “They’re grown up and have jobs,” he says. “I want to make this, as long as I can, a family event.”
This year, Kurt Metzger’s The Warmest Christmas concert, featuring holiday classics and originals with help from local artists, will be held December 21 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Crystal.
Free, but RSVP required at kurtmetzgermusic.com