HOUGHTON - Christmas often brings families together, and father-son duo Milt and PJ Olsson have combined their varying musical talents to release a Christmas album, "Joy."
Four years in the making, "Joy" unites the classical arrangements of Milt - the former Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra director - with the Grammy-nominated engineering and production skills of PJ. The result is a modern take on classic holiday favorites.
"It's a different approach to very familiar carols that I think modernizes them," Milt said. "It puts them in contemporary clothing without losing the original integrity of the music."
The process of putting together the album began with a contact PJ had at a major record label, according to Milt. The label was interested in doing instrumental arrangements of familiar Christmas carols, only with a beat to them. So Milt and PJ put together a demo of "The Hallelujah Chorus" sung by the Michigan Tech Concert Choir in 2006 with rhythm added to it, and the label from there decided it should be a choral album.
"So I went to work with PJ, and I wrote all the arrangements," Milt said. "We started recording them with members of the concert choir. At a recording session, we'd learn a carol or two and record them the same day. It was pretty intense.
"PJ and I then proceeded to do the orchestrations from my scores, and also some improvisations, and it was all done electronically under the name of 'Portage Lake Electronic Orchestra,'" he continued. "The voices are human voices but almost all the other sounds are electronic."
However, just as they finished the album, the economic downturn began and record company lost interest in the album. Finally, PJ and Milt opted to release it themselves locally for the community.
"The response has been really terrific," Milt said. "Everyone has said they've enjoyed it. It's very rewarding."
Among the songs on the album are "Deck the Halls," "Joy to the World" and one of Milt's favorites, "What Child is This?"
"JOY" is available at Good Times Music, Chickadees, 5th & Elm Coffee House, the Copper Country Community Arts Center, Wicker and Willow, Einerlei, The Blue Iris and The Shipping Shop.