Mannheim steamrolls Christmas music

New age Christmas music. It sounds like an oxymoron.

But there's no paradox in the numbers behind Mannheim Steamroller, which has produced some of the best-selling holiday albums of the last two decades. Chip Davis, the brain behind Steamroller's classically based electronic music, still scratches his head trying to figure out the popularity his holiday music has enjoyed since 1984.

"The first three studio albums are at 6 million each, and the live album is at 1.5 million," says Davis. "It's been an unbelievable thing. But I'll take it."

The big figures don't stop there: This year's live Steamroller show is a megaproduction that involves 11 tractor-trailers, a staff of 150 and a multimillion-dollar sound-and-light show.

The show's first half features music from the "Fresh Aire" series, an ongoing project showcasing Davis' instrumental work. Backed by local symphony musicians, Christmas music closes out the show, first with a 1490 period piece � performed with authentic recorders, lutes and harpsichords � and then the familiar Steamroller versions of such songs as "Carol of the Bells," "Silent Night" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Davis was inspired to transform his studio work for a concert setting when he became a father in the early '90s.

"I started seeing the wonder in a kid's eyes, seeing those magical things. Isn't that what the spirit of Christmas really is?" Davis says. "So I decided, if I'm going to do Christmas, I want to do it with as much magic as possible. I want the audience to leave with a really great feeling."

To that end, Davis has moved his show into arenas, where concertgoers are greeted in the lobby by costumed characters � snowmen, elves, Santa. A 6,000-square-foot Christmas village � guarded by 12 toy soldiers � sits at one end of the arena floor.

"It gives me the energy to do all these trick things to the absolute max," he says. "My goal in life has always been to deliver the best possible product to my audience."

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