November 30, 2021

Holiday night lights

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Chet, left, and Karen Seibert stage a holiday light show, in sync with music, every year at their Cosmos Hill home in Cortlandville.

Chet Seibert says it takes him eight to 10 hours to program a song for his holiday light and music show at his Cortlandville yard.

“It’s very time consuming, other than putting the lights up. The first year I did it, there were four songs. Now there are nine.”

The light show is up and running, 5 to 10 p.m. every night till Jan. 3 at 4390 Cosmos Hill Road.

Trees boink with color. Window frames zap. A red zig zag light whips back and forth. All to the tunes of “Wizards in Winter” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra,” “Little Saint Nick,” by the Beach Boys and “The House is Rockin’” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Seibert showed his complex computer display from the Light-O-Rama software that makes the system a go. It looked like coding from computers in the 1980s.

“I don’t understand it,” said Chet’s wife, Karen.

“First, I load the song into the music to light conversion software from Light-ORama,” Chet Seibert said in an email later.

“I then input all the timing marks which are the beats of the song. After this is established on my light grid, I have to program each timing mark with a command to turn on or off, twinkle or shutter.”

“I do this for each of my 250 individual channels of lights controlled by 10 digital light controllers. This takes 8 to 10 hours for a typical two- minute song.”

People only have to park on the side of the road and not block the driveways and tune their radio to 107.7 FM to bring the music into the car. The light show works in sync with the music.

Seibert, a research and development manager in the industrial filter prototype department at Pall Trinity, guesses he has up to 20,000 individual lights, 75 extension cords connecting lights to controllers and a half dozen 5E network cables to connect the controller to the laptop that runs the program.

He has been doing the show 12 years now.

“I don’t do anything,” said Karen Seibert. “I cheer him on. I painted the sign (for the radio station to tune to). I touched them up with a Sharpie. When packages start coming in October, I don’t question it.”

Chet retired from Pall after 36 years. Karen is a retired teacher’s assistant at Homer High School, who still substitute teaches.

Chet’s latest new lights are a set of palm trees and an inflatable Rudolph. A Hawaiian Christmas song accompanies the palm trees. And there’s plenty of homage in the music for Rudolph.

“The rest are just Christmas trees, outlines of house windows, bushes and trees,” Chet said.

Mike Dexter of Cortland, a retired meter reader with the Cortland Water Board, has been decorating the Cortland Waterworks since 1972. There was a five-year hiatus from 1973 to 1978 when no lights were allowed because of the energy crisis. Then they resumed.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

The Cortland Waterworks on Broadway. The lights are a Cortland institution since the 1970s, said Mike Dexter of Cortland, who has a hand in creating the display every year.

“I’m still doing that. I can only do so much but when it snows, it’s 100 percent better,” he said.

And the light display at the Waterworks was going from 1949 to 1972, before Dexter’s tenure, he said.

In fact, the lights were handmade with glass bulbs and wire. Today, they are all LED lights, as are the Seiberts’.

Dexter, in his 70s, had two hips replaced this year. “I was kind of going to back off this year. I can’t do it. It was started in 1949 by Danny Houlihan,” he said.

Dexter has gotten a helping hand through the years. He credits Mike McGraw who rebuilt the original 1949 fireplace at the Broadway, Cortland, display.

This year, retired Cortland High School shop teacher Tom Herting rebuilt the sleigh, also a 1949 original and a real one-horse sleigh made in Binghamton. “He got it up and running again,” said Dexter.

Jim Nichols, former city chief of police, and Ken Woodman have also put in hours on the display.

“Does it get any easier? I am a year older and part of me is new. Some of me is old. It’s very, very hard not to decorate,” Dexter said.

“Santa is not appearing because of the pandemic … there are too many hoops to jump through, social distancing, masks. It’s not fair to Santa Claus,” he said.

And Stacy Rice, a Cortland High School teacher, who has collected stuffed animals every year, got stymied by COVID-19.

Santa Claus would appear with several elves, making a special trip South from the North Pole, and hear little kids’ wish lists. He’d give out a stuffed animal.

“Hopefully next year we will get back on track,” Dexter said.

While Dexter loves the sleigh, the fireplace and the massive candy cane at the Waterworks, the Seiberts have their favorites:

The massive maple tree with blinking spotlights.

“People have dubbed it the dancing tree,” said Karen.

“That seems to be their favorites of the trees,” Chet said.

“Everywhere I go in the fall, people ask, ‘Is he going to do the lights,” said Karen. “People come up every year.”

They bring hot chocolate, pizza, park and enjoy. The Seiberts have found notes, money and cookies in their mailbox.

But it is a totally free display.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Karen, left, and Chet. Chet starts preparing his some 20,000 lights and nine holiday songs in October.

The street is “super busy” on Christmas Eve, said Karen. Cars are parked on both sides.

“We have had people dancing in the street,” said Chet.

The Seiberts are home, though their house appears dark. They have blinds they close and spend their time in the back of the house.

Chet said the show lasts 20 to 22 minutes.

Seibert Holiday Light Show
Where: 4390 Cosmos Hill road, Cortlandville
When: 5 to 10 p.m. nightly, through Jan. 3
How: Park, tune radio to 107.7 FM

The Songs
What you will hear at the Seibert Holiday Light Show:

  • “All I want for Christmas is you,” Mariah Carey
  • “Holiday Road,” Lindsay Buckingham
  • “Wizards in Winter,” Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  • “Sarajevo,” Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  • “Mele Kalikimaka,” Jimmy Buffett
  • “Run, Run Rudolph,” Chuck Berry
  • “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” Alvin and the Chipmunks
  • “Little Saint Nick,” Beach Boys
  • “The House is Rockin,” Stevie Ray Vaughan

“That’s long enough for people to sit out there,” he said.

“We had a great fall,” said Karen. “Occasionally, I hold a ladder.”

“It takes about a month to get lights up,” said Chet. “It was so beautiful this fall, out there in a T-shirt in the 70s. People think I’m crazy.”

Chet Seibert grew up in the house next door and started putting the lights on bushes at 12. “When I didn’t like the way my father did them, I redid them.”

He saw a Cleveland man’s light and music display on the news years ago that caused gridlock on his street. The city shut him down because it wasn’t safe. The light display was moved to a city park with a replica of the man’s house.

Seibert emailed the fellow and asked how he did this. With Light-O-Rama software, he was told.

“I bought the software and worked through it,” Seibert said.

“I went to the manual on occasion. Now I just know where I need to go and do a lot of cutting and pasting.”