For the past six years, Sue Porter has spent countless hours volunteering her time to organize an annual free Christmas concert showcasing a variety of musical groups, choirs and performers.
Although the concert will be held at a Gilbert Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Porter chooses groups that play holiday music that appeals to everyone, including a mix of secular, popular Christmas songs and traditional Christmas carols.
"I know what's really top-notch," said Porter, 69, a former music teacher from Indiana University and the University of Delaware. "I have high expectations of amateurs, and they rise to the occasion. So many churches have gone to rock bands and popular music. I prefer a mix."
A 50-member children's chorus will sing, "Let There Be Peace on Earth," alongside the adult church choir.
Braxton and Samuel Breinholt, 12-year-old identical twin brothers from Gilbert who attend Heritage Academy, a Mesa charter school, will play "Jingle Bells" side by side on the same piano.
The Sonoran Brass Quintet, comprised of professional musicians brought together through associations with Arizona State University, will perform "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Feliz Navidad" and "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming."
Tom Chamberlain, a Gilbert orthodontist, will sing the popular "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!"
Gayla Smith, a professional harpist from Gilbert, will perform the traditional "Clair de Noel."
The concert is about "helping people, lifting people to a higher level of happiness and spirituality," said Porter, of Gilbert, who has a doctorate in music education. "The concert is open to everyone. This is another outreach opportunity to the community."
More than a thousand people come out for the annual event, and since the church only holds 1,000 people, three years ago Porter and her team of 10 church members added a second show to accommodate the crowd. Porter also added a pre-concert for families who show up early to secure a good seat.
Taylor Anderson, a mechanical engineer from Gilbert, is a church choir member and part-time director of the adult choir who has been involved with the concert for three years.
"It's a lot of fun," said Anderson, who is married with four children. "The variety is really neat. I've been involved personally in choral music for a long time, and Christmas music is always extra fun. This particular group is fun to work with."
Besides organizing the 1-hour, 10-minute concerts, Porter put together a Power Point presentation to run during the concert. Pictures of animals playing in the snow will greet those who come out early to the concert. Porter also co-directs the church choir and is in charge of the "Hallelujah Chorus" near the end of the concert.
Auditions are held in October to select soloists and ensembles for the concert. Performers don't have to be members of the church, although most are, Porter said. Competition and availability of performers is tough, since the second Sunday in December is considered the most popular day for holiday concerts, Porter said.
To prepare for the event, Porter spends most of the year going to other concerts, networking and listening to music. She has a large collection of Christmas music. In September, invitations are sent out to choir members and the church orchestra.
"I love music and just think Christmas music is the best," said Porter, who also teaches a weekly religious class at her church and piano lessons. "Music has been my life."
Porter moved to Gilbert from Delaware 11 years ago with her husband of 33 years, Lee. She helps care for Lee, who has a rare bone marrow disease. The couple have two sons, four grandchildren and one grandchild on the way.
Besides her music teaching, Porter was a professional choral singer in New York and sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the 1960s.
Now, she enjoys putting other singers and musicians "in the limelight."
"I love to make opportunities for people," Porter said. "This world is so stressful, it's all about bringing happiness. Many people have told me this concert is the perfect way to begin the Christmas season."