The Valley Line: Ringing it in with a Dickens Dinner

Santa, that man who wears a red suit and carries a bag chock-full of toys, is getting ready for his yearly mad dash around the world in just two days. My grandchildren are very excited. They wrote their letters to him weeks ago and are hoping that they will find what they asked for under the tree on Christmas morning.

Of course my little grandchildren in England — Aidan, Lucan, and Morgan — will get to open their presents way before their Palo Alto cousins, Catherine and Ryan.

Just after we open our Santa presents here, we will be talking with the bunch across the pond just as they are about to carve their Christmas goose for dinner. This will be their last Christmas in England because they are about to wind up their 3 1/2 -year adventure and return home to California in January.

Before I babble on about happenings around and about, I send you my very best wishes for a very happy Christmas on the 25th and a festive Hanukkah, which began Tuesday night.


The USC Thornton School of Music rang in the Christmas season with its annual Charles Dickens Dinner in the Crystal Ballroom at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel on Dec. 9. This was the school’s 25th celebration of this event, which has gained cachet over the years and is consistently sold out, with more than 600 formally dressed guests who count on this to be one of their most glamorous holiday events.

This one night showcases the talents of the singers and musicians of this prestigious school of music.

The evening began with carol singing during the cocktail hour by choral singers dressed in clothing reminiscent of the Dickens era during the reigns of King Edward and his daughter, Queen Victoria.

When guests were asked to come join the feast in the opulent ballroom, Thornton School of Music Dean Rob Cutietta welcomed the guests and introduced Rod Gilfry, master of ceremonies for the evening. Gilfry, an internationally known operatic baritone and actor, is a Thornton alum.

Gilfry’s resonate voice filled the room as he began reading Dickens’ famed story, “A Christmas Carol.”

The characters of Dickens’ story came to life through Gilfry’s reading and the magnificent music performed by the students.

Composer and singer Randy Newman and his wife Gretchen were the very gracious dinner chairs. La Cañada residents who have been past dinner chairs for this annual event include Dick and Bonnie Cook, Liz Argue and the late John C. Argue.

The evening paid tribute to Richard Carpenter, who along with his late sister Karen, gained worldwide fame in the 1970s with a long string of pop music hits, including classics as “Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” Superstar,” “Top of the World,” and Yesterday Once More.” The Carpenters won three Grammy Awards, the first American Music Award ever presented for favorite Pop Group and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Richard Carpenter was awarded the USC Thornton Legacy Award.

In 1995, when John and Liz Argue were dinner chairs, John suggested that the dinner focus expand beyond musicians and honor an individual that was making extraordinary contributions to the promotion of the arts in Los Angeles. Upon John’s passing in 2003, the award was renamed in his honor to the John C. Argue Dickens Medal of Honor.

This year, the Grammy Foundation received the John C. Argue Dickens Medal of Honor. The award was accepted by Kristen Madsen, senior vice president of the Grammy Foundation.

USC Thornton School of Music students who were honored and also performed that evening were Justin Klunk, an amazing saxophonist and winner of the Grammy Foundation Scholar, and Richard Carpenter Scholars Eric Radloff and Mia Minichiello. The two performed Richard Carpenter’s new song, “Together at Christmas Again,” which has not yet been released.

JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada social scene. Email her at

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