Mannheim Steamroller’s holiday music legacy thrives

Group to perform Tuesday at the Schuster Center.



It would be an exaggeration to say Chip Davis created modern Christmas music with Mannheim Steamroller. However, the group, performing at the Schuster Center on Tuesday, Dec. 20 courtesy of Dayton Live, dramatically altered the genre after the 1984 release of its iconic first holiday album, “Christmas.”

“Christmas music sounded a lot different before Mannheim,” said longtime drummer Tom Sharpe. “Now, it’s more common for groups to have Christmas albums but before that, it was Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and (others). I was immediately drawn to (Mannheim) when I was a kid. When that opening line of ‘Deck the Halls’ came on from their first album, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is going to be something.’ I really made that my Christmas soundtrack.”



Making the yearly playlist

Sharpe isn’t the only one to include Mannheim Steamroller in their annual yuletide celebrations.

“It really is something to be on this side of it now because I know it’s a tradition for a lot of families,” Sharpe said. “Parents brought their kids and now they’re grown up and bringing their kids. For us as a group, this isn’t something we take lightly. We know we’re carrying on this legacy and we take great care in that. We want people to experience something special so we’re not just taking you through a bunch of Christmas songs. We’re playing Christmas traditions.”

On Dec. 8, Billboard published a feature on the Top 25 holiday albums released between 1985 and early 2022. The industry magazine’s list is based on sales figures and includes Mariah Carey, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Michael Bublé. However, Mannheim Steamroller is the only act to make the list with four releases. Two of those, “A Fresh Aire Christmas” and “Christmas,” ranked four and five respectively. Sharpe credits the success to Davis, the group’s Grammy Award-winning leader.

“Chip is still very much involved in our programming,” he said. “He does a fantastic job of knowing what pieces people are hungry to hear. We’ll definitely be bringing those classic songs you’ve come to expect but Chip does a great job of keeping it fresh. He’s good at weaving in new music with stuff a little deeper in the catalog. There will always be some surprises for audience members that have been before, but they’ll get a different show than in previous years.”



Music for the masses

Since the beginning, Davis has imbued the group’s oeuvre with musical virtuosity without sacrificing mainstream appeal.

“Some people might think Mannheim Steamroller is musician’s music because it is extremely layered,” Sharpe said. “However, one of the greats things about this music is it’s so accessible to everyone. It draws from a lot of different time signatures, unique phrasing and key changes. This concert is the perfect blend of classical sophistication and raw rock. It really is one of a kind. It’s visionary music and there are six of us in the band surrounded by the orchestra, an amazing light show and video presentation. It really is a sonic, visual spectacle so it taps all your senses in the right way.”

Although Sharpe was a kid when he first heard Mannheim Steamroller, he’s now a proud seasoned member. It’s a position he’s not ready to relinquish.

“I’m actually one of the old guys, now,” he said. “This is my 15th year, so I’ve been to Dayton many times. We really love the Schuster Center, which is gorgeous (and has) a really cool atmospheric ceiling. It’s so wonderful to be a part of this every year. All of us in the group are professional musicians and we all have all sorts of other projects, groups and different things. Every time I come back to this at the end of the summer and start ramping up for Mannheim season, it always feels like it’s happening for the first time with fresh ears. It’s just remarkable music. I’m a Mannheim guy for life if they’ll have me.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at


What: Mannheim Steamroller Christmas

Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20

Cost: $49-$79

More info: 937-228-3630 or

Artist info:

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