The holidays are a great time to gather a group of fellow singers and perform! Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares some tips to keep in mind as you assemble your crew and select your Christmas carol songs…
Some of my favorite Christmas childhood memories are caroling with my family around our neighborhood, at nursing homes and at hospitals, because of how easily and joyfully it brings people together. People might not carol quite as often as they used to in generations past, and I, for one, think that it’s time for a renewal of the traditional pastime. Just like trick-or-treating on Halloween, Christmas caroling could be one of the few times that we, in this era of indoor activities, long hours at the office, and working from home, meet and connect with our neighbors and our communities at large.
With very little effort, even a small group of people can have a positive impact on their fellow citizens during a time that can be tough on a lot of us. Most of us know that how fun and rewarding it can be, but maybe not how exactly to get a caroling team together. Here are my tips for assembling a Christmas caroling group.
• Choose the right nights.
You may never get all of your neighbors home on the same night, but there are definitely those evenings when most folks will stay in, like Christmas Eve or even the night of the 23rd. Check with your local paper or city website to be sure that there aren’t any large events going on the night (or nights!) of your planned caroling, like a Christmas parade or a tree lighting. Otherwise, you may find yourselves singing to a lot of empty houses. And if you plan to sing at nursing homes or local hospitals, call each of them to check on their rules and available dates and times for visiting groups like yours.
• Recruit your singers.
Print out simple, festive fliers announcing an open call for singers and post it at your local high schools, colleges, churches, and community centers. List your email address and the dates that you plan on caroling. For safety reasons, be careful not to list too much personal information, like your home address or full name. Of course, if you have a family, a group of neighbors, or church members who already want to form a group, then you have a core team. But why not recruit more singers? I have a feeling that the phrase “the more, the merrier” came from the Christmas caroling tradition.
• Plan a couple of rehearsals.
On those nights mentioned above where there’s a big local event and most people are out and about, plan your rehearsals. You may not be able to get every singer to every rehearsal; just do your best. Christmas caroling isn’t about a perfect choir sound, it’s about spreading joy. So these get-togethers should be easy, simply a chance to bring your sound together.
• Decide on your set list.
Focus on choosing Christmas carol songs that most of your singers know well by taking a survey at your first rehearsal. You wouldn’t want to turn your fun, laid-back rehearsals into sight singing boot camp sessions where everyone’s struggling through the music. Simple and happy is the name of the game. You shouldn’t even have a formal order of songs. A leader of the group should choose songs moment by moment and venue by venue, depending on the vibe. That might mean bright and vibrant carols at a children’s hospital, and mellow and reverent songs at a veteran’s home, or vice versa!
• Assemble and distribute music.
Print out copies of the Christmas carol songs that you’ve chosen and place them into small, inexpensive binders. Everyone could highlight his or her part in the music (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass) and any solos.
• Bring scarves, a pitch pipe, and tea.
If you live in a region of the world that experiences cold temperatures during Advent and Christmas, then before your Christmas caroling group heads out, be sure that every singer brings a scarf to keep the old voice boxes warm. The skin that covers them is thin and delicate. Tumblers of chai tea, which is full of anti-inflammatory power to keep vocal swelling down, are a fun option.
Never forget that your primary focus is spreading good cheer and good will to your community. While we should always strive to do our best, the only way to ruin your caroling adventures is to take the whole thing too seriously. Keep calm, and carol on.
Heather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!
Photo by Richard Towell