How the Colorado Symphony Musicians Celebrate the Holidays

Peak behind the curtain to find out how these three Colorado Symphony musicians light up the town during the festive season.

The Colorado Symphony performing on stage.
Photo courtesy of Visit Denver.

The Colorado Symphony has been the linchpin of Denver’s artistic social scene since it was founded in 1934. They are the “who’s who” of Denver’s high-brow art scene. Many of the Colorado Symphony musicians have been making music in Denver for several decades, creating meaningful lifelong traditions in the Mile High City while immersing themselves in community and culture. This year, they share their insider tips on painting the town red (and green).

Colorado Symphony assistant principal flutist Cathy Peterson.
Photo courtesy of Cathy Peterson.

Catherine Peterson – Assistant Principal Flute

Cathy Peterson is a flutist in the Colorado Symphony, a regular performer with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a member of the Ivy Street Ensemble. She has played the flute for four decades and finds her musical inspiration from everyone in the Denver classical music scene. As financial instability for orchestras steadily increases, Peterson admires all the musicians who continue to create.

Peterson visits a handful of different stores to find the perfect holiday gift. Always a dependable customer at the Colorado Symphony Guild shop, she buys presents for her children’s teachers while simultaneously supporting symphony programming and youth outreach services.

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Peterson gets a well-deserved break from performing during the busy holiday season when she attends festive productions with her family. “I always love attending the Colorado Ballet’s Nutcracker. I’ve taken my kids there since they were teeny tiny, like 2 and 4 years old.” Along with that now-cherished tradition, every year Peterson and her children also build gingerbread houses and bake Pepparkakors, traditional Swedish ginger cookies from her husband’s ancestry. On Christmas Day, Peterson enjoys snacking on warm, crispy sweet and sour Chinese Wontons. “My mom and dad live very close to me and every Christmas day they make Chinese fried wonton with sweet and sour sauce and distribute it to the neighbors. That’s my favorite holiday food because we eat it every Christmas day.”

For the upcoming year, Peterson is excited to share Ivy Street’s new chamber music commission where she will be featured on four different instruments: the flute, bass flute, alto flute and piccolo.

Colorado Symphony principal clarinetist Jason Shafer.
Photo courtesy of Jason Shafer.

Jason Shafer – Principal Clarinet

Jason Shafer is the Colorado Symphony’s principal clarinetist and a professor at the University of Northern Colorado. He has been playing the clarinet for 24 years and finds the majority of his musical inspiration in an unexpected place: at the performances of amateur musicians. “I actually find it super inspiring and exciting to see the quality and passion of younger players,” he explained. Chasing this spark of inspiration, Shafer frequents performances at the UNC, CU Boulder and DU music schools.

Every December, Shafer assembles his holiday gift list and searches for local artisan shops he can support. Jason often frequents the South Pearl Street shopping area where he visits Ruby’s Market, a multicultural artisan shop that supports refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs.

Like many Denverites, most of Shafer’s cherished holiday traditions revolve around food. “My dad always made this really incredible waffle recipe that is at least a hundred years old…It’s so bad for you—the batter has like two sticks of butter in it and buttermilk—but it’s really incredibly good. It’s kind of a tradition every year that we always make those waffles.” He and his husband cook the caloric, buttery waffles from his childhood (see recipe below) and bake pan after pan of classic gooey chocolate chip cookies. The urge to feed Shafer’s undeniable sweet tooth often strikes after Colorado Symphony performances, so he heads to Little Man Ice Cream or to Sweet Cow for their iconic oreo ice cream. Contrary to his usual sugary palette, Shafer rings in the New Year with a kick by settling down with a piney, aromatic glass of gin and tonic.

H.R.M.’S Favorite Waffles

McCall’s Cook Book, 12th Ed.

Preheat a waffle iron and beat 4 eggs until light. Sift together 2 c all-purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp baking soda. Alternate adding the flour mixture and 2 c buttermilk to the beaten eggs. Add 1 c melted butter and mix thoroughly. Use about ½ c of batter for each waffle and cook until the waffle iron stops steaming.

Colorado Symphony section double bassist Susan Cahill.
Photo courtesy of Susan Cahill.

Susan Cahill – Section Double Bass

Susan Cahill is a double bassist in the Colorado Symphony and a professor at the Lamont School of Music. Cahill started her music career on the piano when she was 4 years old and began learning her beloved double bass when she was 10 years old. The dedicated musicians and guest artists Cahill works with in the Colorado Symphony constantly fuel her artistry. Michelle DeYoung, a mezzo-soprano Sue performed with earlier this year, was an exceptional source of inspiration. DeYoung has used her talents to benefit her community through Ensemble Charité, a Colorado nonprofit that donates money from ticket proceeds to community organizations.

Cahill loves going to Cherry Creek North’s Artisan Center in search of unique, handmade gifts and always takes a trip to Georgetown to buy Christmas ornaments from Shoppe Internationale.

Cahill’s family creates classic holiday dishes for their celebratory dinners and she looks forward to the savory staple of stuffing and gravy each year. “If there isn’t stuffing and gravy at Thanksgiving I would probably go into mourning.” She also indulges in the decadent holiday cookies her friends buy at Denver’s Gateaux Bakery and stocks up on Royal Crest Dairy’s seasonal eggnog. “It’s just fabulous…it’s hard to keep it in the house too because we will just keep drinking it.”

When Cahill is performing in the Colorado Symphony’s annual New Year’s Eve concert, A Night in Vienna, her family attends the show and relishes in the glitz and glamor of glittering ball gowns and classical dance themes. A classic post-show tradition, many members of the symphony gather at The Nickel, an upscale bistro in Hotel Teatro, in search of a well-made drink after symphony performances. Cahill occasionally joins her colleagues, sipping a Manhattan and chatting with patrons who flock to the restaurant after the symphony.

Like Shafer, Cahill is also looking forward to playing with mandolin player Chris Thile in what promises to be a superlative performance.