'Year-round hobby' animates Lenoir's Christmas lights

Dec. 25, 2013 @ 08:42 AM

On the square in downtown Lenoir, after darkness falls, Christmas lights streak, jump and dance in time to music.  

The light show, which synchronizes moving lights with holiday tunes, runs from 6 to 10 p.m. each night until Jan. 5. It’s the brainchild of twin brothers Dean and Gene Norman.  

Christmas lights are a hobby for the Normans, who started the show three years ago on the Hogwaller stage on Church Street in Lenoir, and after that were asked to move the lights to the square as part of Light Up Lenoir.

Both brothers are tech-savvy – Dean works for the Caldwell County Schools as a technology supervisor, and Gene, who is retired, also worked in technology for the school system. That helps in setting up the light show, a programming-intensive gig that Dean describes as a “year-round hobby.”

The Normans divide labor for the show. Gene does most of the construction – including building a new addition for this year’s show, a Christmas tree made of high-tech LED strip lights.

“I enjoy just putting it together,” he said. “I enjoy the physical part, I enjoy working on it. I like to see the end product.”

Dean does more of the programming, including the time-intensive task of matching the flashing of the lights to the beat of the music.

“That’s what goes on throughout the year – the really time-consuming part of it is called sequencing, which is actually making each beat of the music correspond with the lights,” he said. “Each beat of the music has to be either manually, or with software, made to work with the lights.”

Once the lights are up and running – a time you might think is a harried one for the Normans – that’s the time when there’s a lull. Nov. 21 to Jan. 5, Dean Norman said, is almost like a break.

But it’s not just the Normans who pour their time into music and lights. This type of holiday-themed moving light show is becoming something of a cult hobby across the country.

Part of the way Dean and Gene Norman got started on their own light show was by plugging into the thriving online community that surrounds the hobby. There’s also a Christmas Expo, described as a “three-day conference for home and commercial decorating enthusiasts,” each summer in Gatlinburg, Tenn. And on Monday nights this winter, ABC aired “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” which gave 20 families a chance to face off based on “elaborate Christmas light displays, incredible choreography and over-the-top designs.”

Some of the lights are displayed in public, like the Normans’, but many are decorations at private residences.

For the Normans, the mechanical and programming aspects of the light show are very much part of the fun – but they also like to watch as people discover the show, sitting on benches in the square and pointing their cameras at the LED tree or climbing the steps of the downtown stage and swaying under the lights.  

“That’s the most satisfying part, to see the folks that are enjoying it,” Dean Norman said. “The kids seem to be intrigued, of course, with it, and that’s really what it’s all about – seeing people enjoying it and watching the lights and hearing the music together.”