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A gift of free noontime concerts for office workers

There’s always a catch. Or so said about a dozen smiling but cynical people on a recent Thursday afternoon, as they hurried through the lobby of the 30-story 125 High Street office tower in Boston’s Financial District and observed a trio of formally dressed chamber musicians playing Christmas and classical tunes in front of a giant Christmas tree.

The good-natured catcalls ranged from “How much?” to “What’s this all about?”

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The simple answer?

“There is no catch,” said an equally smiley Sandy Kiefer, music director of the Copley Chamber Players, the classical musicians collective that has played free concerts in office building lobbies for the past 15 years during the winter holiday season. “The concerts are free, a gift to tenants and anyone passing through these buildings, courtesy of building management. I thought more than a decade ago that the gift of music would be a great gift for busy people. Who needs a soothing break in the middle of the day more than working people?”

Kiefer, who on this day played her cello with violinist Brian Clague on one side and violist Scott Woolweaver on the other, said the origin of the Players’ lobby concerts is pretty anticlimactic.

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“Believe it or not, I cold-called, in a manner of speaking. I just walked into a number of buildings and said, we’d like to do this. We’d like to offer holiday concerts during the lunch hour,” she said. “And to my pleasant surprise, they agreed. The idea was immediately and widely accepted. We do more than 20 buildings, including the John Hancock Tower on Clarendon Street,and 53 State Street. And again, they’re free to the public. The buildings’ managements pay for our performances.”

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

From left: Brian Clague, Sandy Kiefer, and Scott Woolweaver of the Boston Copley Chamber Players.

Since that start, different incarnations of the Copley Players — a brass quartet in one building, a string trio in another, a flute and harp duet in another — have performed roughly 50 one-hour lunch-time shows every November and December around Greater Boston.

On the day the Globe caught up with Kiefer’s group at 125 High Street — a day that saw another 10 teams of Copley Players doing free concerts in other Boston buildings — dozens of wide-eyed worker bees in business suits and London Fog-style raincoats did double takes, then backtracked to stop, tap toes, and listen as the trio strummed out portions of a Haydn divertimento, “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “The First Noel,” “Wassail Song,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and selections from “The Nutcracker.”

The backdrop of marble-covered lobby, complete with massive oil paintings, sculptures, and a 25-foot Christmas tree, only made the music more powerful, said one woman who declined to identify herself, “because I don’t want my employer to think I was lollygagging.”

Steve Turner, the only passerby willing to vocalize his feelings and share his name, described it this way: “In a word, excellent!”

“I work just across the way in the 131 Building,” Turner said. “And this is terrific. It’s a nice surprise when you come out for lunch and find something like this. In the middle of work, this kind of thing can serve to remind you of the season.”

For their part, Woolweaver and Clague said the thrill of the concerts has never waned.

“You might think they’d get old, playing the same music, year after year, but year after year the people who work around here and come by to hear us give the same reactions — pleasant surprise and sometimes sheer joy. And that is always a blast to see,” Woolweaver said.

For a schedule of remaining free holiday concerts by the Copley Chamber Players, go to www.copleyplayers.com/listen.php4.

James H. Burnett III can be reached at james.burnett@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.
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