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Everyone in attendance last Tuesday was counting on the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s 19th annual Holiday Musical Salute (HMS) to get the crowd into the Christmas spirit.

And did it ever! Conductor Stilian Kirov led his musicians through “Sleigh Ride” and selections from “The Nutcracker,” with the Northwest Boychoir Apprentices joining them up front to sing — even bringing some folks to yuletide tears.

No one expected the event to set records, but it did, two of them. On hand were a record 500 people, who helped raise a much-needed $170,000 for the Seattle Symphony Player’s Pension Plan — more than twice what the event brought in last year.

Bravo to co-chairs Ashley O’Connor McCready and Rena O’Brien, who honored symphony tradition, but pulled from all corners of the community to make things bright.

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Before the ballroom doors opened, guests sipped hot cider and did a bit of holiday shopping from the dozen or so pop-up shops set up in the lobby. (Thirty percent of their sales went to the pension plan.) The Seattle Girls Choir (

Its motto: “Serious singing, serious fun”) could be heard all the way downstairs. Loved them.

Making the rounds: HMS founder and Seattle Symphony Lifetime Director Dorothy Fluke, Isa Nelson
and former HMS chairwoman Linda Brain.

Also there were Arlene Wright, Margery Aronson and Sean and Bernie Griffin, he fresh off his role in “Sugar Daddies” at ACT Theatre, and she in the midst of launching “Oliver!” at the 5th Avenue Theatre.

“We’ve got two different gangs and two Olivers, all of them great kids,” Bernie Griffin said. “But their parents are the unsung heroes, schlepping them everywhere.”

Sean Griffin, who played Santa Claus (that’s right, he belongs in bold) in last year’s production of “Elf” at the 5th, knows the merry madness of a holiday show.

“ ‘Oliver!’ is beautiful,” he said, and then couldn’t resist, “The only thing missing is me.”

chairwoman Leslie Chihuly loved the mix of artists and supporters in the room.

“Whether you’re a new organization or an older, established one like the symphony, the only way to stay effective is to continue to reinvent and invite new communities in,” she explained. “To me, the symphony is as sacred as a church, a place where people come together to reflect and be inspired.”

Symphony violinist Steve Bryant had a funny way of thanking the crowd for supporting the pension fund.

“It’s good for everyone to have a little security,” he said, before seeming to contradict himself. “Who knows, a comet could hit the Earth tomorrow.”

Merry Christmas to you, too, Steve!

Kathie Lee seal of approval

You had to sit through Kathie Lee Gifford’s story about falling on her face (literally) in her own driveway the other week on the “Today” show, but it was worth it to see her hold up a copy of Ernie Pino’s new children’s book, “Cocino Con Mama! (I’m Cooking With Mom!)” as one of her favorite things.

Hours later, Pino was still smiling. He’d met Gifford once in New York and again in Seattle a few years back when she launched her (ill-fated) “Saving Amy” at the 5th. The local author sent her a preview copy of his book and didn’t know what to expect. But she came through.

“You can’t buy that kind of airtime,” he told me.

Illustrated by Lisa Lee, the book, a rhyming story about a boy who cooks breakfast with his mother, was a labor of love for Pino, who owns a Spanish-language advertising agency. It was written in English but includes words in Spanish to give kids an early start at the language. Pino’s parents were “daring and insistent” that he speak both Spanish and English.

The book is also a labor of generosity: 50 percent of the profits (it’s available for pre-order on Amazon) will go to Food Lifeline, which is fighting to end hunger in Western Washington.

What could be more appropriate for the season?

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

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