Caroling Day is my choir’s favorite day of the year. We carol every year, the day before the Winter Break. It has become a traditional within all of the schools in our district. This day has become a favorite of our Superintendent, elementary teachers, and younger children throughout our district.
These “caroling” suggestions are intended to hone in on the HOWS and WHYS, to maximize the experience for both our choir and our audiences.
Here are 15 Tips for Caroling with Seasonal Spirit and Maximum Impact:
1. Choose spreading joy over singing songs
This basic understanding will guide the choices that we make throughout our caroling experience. How we interact with audience members and each other when we aren’t singing is just as important as how we sound when we sing.
2. Don’t waste time trying to “perfect” a carol
Of course, we may sing really well, but that isn’t our goal. When we carol, we hope others join in. This music is accessible to everyone. I hope the elementary students sing Jingle Bells with us, and if they do, maybe my choir will start beatboxing, or adding additional harmonies. Extra notes will not ruin carols. My state music teacher association, NYSSMA, has a staircase sing at their annual state convention. Hundreds of music teachers who can all read music are given lyric sheets, not sheet music, to more than a dozen holiday tunes. You will hear harmonies galore, nothing perfect, but simply beautiful. That is the beauty of singing carols!
Along with this concept…
3. Empower your singers
Let them conduct and create a rotating order of songs. If your choir is large, divide them in half and have two conductors. If students can conduct, you can sing too, or interact with the audience members. (also see #15)
4. Use caroling as a means for growing your program
This is a great recruitment tool. Our choir sing in all four elementary schools as well as the two middle schools in our district. We walk up and down every hallway as the younger students line the sides of the lockers to hear us sing. We pop into the gym, cafeteria, library, main office, and give “special” pop-in performances in the music classes. These young students will remember this experience forever. Caroling outside of the school system is important as well, but singing for our own school in a casual setting, as well as our feeder systems will no doubt lead to students wanting to join.
5. Recognize Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa!
If we sing music that recognizes all seasonal holidays, we can engage our community and make all members feel included. How we greet our audiences and what we say and sing can connect many but it can also repel others. For members of the community who do not celebrate any of the three spirited holidays, we can reach out to them with our choice of words: “We hope you have a happy holiday season, filled with love and joy”, or, “For those of you celebrating, we hope you have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a joyous Kwanzaa! For those of you in our community of other faiths, we hope we can you bring joy during this season!”
6. Embrace the winter and choose seasonal music as well
There are many seasonal songs that are secular. We can carol with Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, Winter Wonderland, etc. While ignoring the holidays is something I don’t agree with, recognizing the Winter season is something that would be appreciated by all audience members, regardless of faith.
Jingle Bells (SATB) – download instantly for free – easy to learn!
7. Sing for only one person and change that person forever
The joy that the one office employee will experience when a choir sings for them is one they will carry for a lifetime. Sing as one teacher or one student is walking in the hallway. Sometimes these experiences can be awkward, but we know that it will be something that they will talk about for a long time.
8. Keep it moving
We are the carolers, we need to keep moving. Leave our audiences wanting more. Sing one to three songs in one place, and then move on.
Caroling is super joyful when you begin singing in a hallway after it is silent: let music instantly fill the air. Nothing is less joyful than screaming and talking followed by shushing…..followed by singing. The element of surprise is definitely effective with these popular mall “Hallelujah” pop-ups. Which reminds me….
10. Avoid Hallelujah Chorus when caroling
I wrote an entire blog post on the Hallelujah Chorus and why I believe it is overdone during the holiday season. When it comes to caroling, keep each song short and sweet. The singing is for our audience, not for us. The Hallelujah Chorus is simply too long, too difficult, and too tiring for an audience member. Caroling music should be easy to sight-sing, although the goal is to be off memorized.
11. Have just the right number and variety of songs
The right number covers all the holidays along with seasonal music, and allows for not repeating songs at nearby locations or with people who pass by slowly. If we agree to a 3 song max at any one location, we can be successful with 9 songs, but more is better.
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12. Memorize the Music
If the songs can’t be memorized, they are too difficult or too wordy. Sing songs the audience knows, and know the lyrics better than your audience.
Here are the songs our choir takes on the road:
Carol of the Bells – arr. Peter J. Wilhousky/Mykola Leontovich
O Come Emanuel
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
13. Keep the arrangements short and sweet
Keep “Joy to the World” limited to 2 verses, the audience doesn’t want to hear the extra verses of “Jingle Bells”. Let’s try to get the audience to sing and clap along, etc. and then end it. Leave them wanting more! If you would like complimentary versions of the arrangements of “Joy to the World”, “Jingle Bells”, or “Deck the Halls”, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, “Siyahamba” click on them and you can download them instantly. If you are looking for Hanukkah pieces that fit in perfectly with your Christmas Carols, please check out “Oh Hanukkah” and the caroling version of “Dreidel” quite inexpensively. These arrangements are the ones I use with my self-selected high school choir.
Oh Hanukkah (SATB) – perfect for caroling – short, sweet, and instantly downloadable – .75 per copy
14. Encourage groups of singers to “create their own little caroling thing”
My choral program has 8 student-run a-cappella groups (95% of those students are part of the curricular self-selected choir); while I advise these groups, they rehearse fully on their own. Each one of the eight groups has their own holiday traditional pieces that they bring on the road with us. With few exceptions, all of these smaller groups are formed from within the larger group. Here are some of the “traditional holiday pieces” the each a-cappella group sings : “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”, “Frosty”, “Feliz Navidad”, “Sleigh Ride”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”. These eight additional pieces add substantial repertoire onto the annual repertoire that the entire choir has prepared.
15. End the day spreading joy together as a choir
After spending the day spreading joy, share the joy with one another. In my choir, we have pizza, a gift exchange, and every member of the choir writes every other member a holiday card; this is not mandatory, but it is a tradition lead by the officers each and every year. Some other suggestions would be a group discussion about the day, or handing out an annual photocopied book where each student had written one page to the entire choir about what makes their choir experience special.