The day before Thanksgiving is one of the major pivots in our year. This is the day that marks the beginning of winter/holiday concert season.
Prior to this week, we have not taken out any Christmas/Hanukkah music. While we infuse our winter choir concert with holiday music, it’s our tradition of repeating the same holiday music that allows us to best engage our audience with holiday spirit while spending the fall season focusing on non-holiday music.
On the day before Thanksgiving break, I frequently hear teachers commenting on how wild their students are. This is certainly not the case in my room as we have one of the meaningful rehearsals/events of the year: Choir Alumni Hour.
Before Choir Alumni Hour
Before I discuss choir alumni hour, I wanted to share my Thanksgiving/Fall Gratitude Round – as it will be performed for Choir Alumni Day along with my original arrangement of Simple Gifts! (available for SAB and SSA). If you listen to the recording below, this short arrangement is patriotic while maintaining the feeling of simplicity and gratitude. We perform both songs at our community’s interfaith Thanksgiving service the night before Alumni Day every year.
I wrote a Thanksgiving/Fall Gratitude Round in an effort to do a few things:
- Initiate a class discussion on gratitude around the time of Thanksgiving
- Give the students a break from the prepared winter concert music
- Have students sight-sing something new
- Focus on the two “Th” sounds and tongue placement, along with the “Tr” vs the “Ch” that are often confused.
- Add a unique, potential tradition to our Alumni Hour
Here are the lyrics:
There are many things that we’re grateful for, things that we’re grateful for, we should give thanks for all.
Think of the things that we treasure and cherish, those are the things that we should thank every fall.
Thanksgiving/Fall Gratitude Round – available for instant download!
Choir Alumni Hour (Pre-Thanksgiving Final Rehearsal)
Since many of our recent alumni return home from college the day before Thanksgiving, we invite them back for our regular daytime rehearsal. Our 40 minute rehearsal consists of singing ALL of our winter traditional pieces, pieces we repeat every year at our winter concert, as well as all of our holiday caroling music. We call the event “Alumni hour” because students can come in a few minutes early and stay an additional 15 minutes to catch up with each other before kindly being escorted out of the building by our fine building security.
Here is the big picture schedule for Choir Alumni Hour:
1. All singers begin immediate at the bell with a brief vocal warm-up
We put out an extra 50+ chairs in the room and spread our sections out. As alumni enter, they join their respective sections. In most cases the returning alumni have graduated in the past 1-3 years, but we do have some former students returning from far longer. Alumni fill in open spots in between current choir members.
O Hanukkah – Available SAB or SSA
2. We sing our processional as a unified ensemble
Our mixed choir has been entering the auditorium singing “O Come Emmanuel” at our winter concert every year since 1966. While we have transitioned from holding real candles to “fake” candles and modified the arrangement over time, the beauty of the tradition still remains. During our alumni hour rehearsal, our current choir and alumni together sing all 4 verses in unison and then reach that special moment where we break into glorious 4 parts with the soprano descant on top. This is the moment in our alumni hour rehearsal where we all get goosebumps.
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3. Our current choir members stand up and sing new repertoire for the alumni
The alumni are intertwined with our currents singers so when our current choir members stand up, they are spread out all over the place. I’ve considered the idea of having our choir surround the alumni in a circle, but since our Alumni rehearsal is super-packed from bell to bell, the make-shift alignment seems to be the our best option.
Our alumni always love hearing a “sneak-peak” of our upcoming winter concert and our current choir always loves showing the alumni that they are living up to the same standard of excellence as previous years.
Next we will sing our Thanksgiving/Fall Gratitude Round! and Simple Gifts.
4. Our current choir and alumni sing all of the winter concert traditional repertoire
There are many traditional pieces that our choir has in our repertoire and sing each and every year. Some of these pieces are sung at the winter concert with our current choir while other pieces are sung with our invited alumni as well. This rehearsal is an opportunity for the alumni to practice the selections they will be singing at our upcoming concert as well as singing some pieces that they will just be listening to at the upcoming concert.
Here are the traditional pieces that our choir sings without alumni at our annual winter concert:
- O Come Emmanuel – ed. Adam Paltrowitz
- Danny Boy – arr. Joseph Flummerfelt
- Carol of the Bells – arr. Peter Wilhousky
- Dreidel – arr. Adam Paltrowitz
Here are the traditional pieces that our choir sings with the alumni at the Winter Concert:
- The Storm is Passing Over – arr. Barbara Baker
- When Rooks Fly Homeward – Arthur Baynon
- Night of Silence – Daniel Kantor
- Siyahamba – arr. Adam Paltrowitz
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5. We introduce/sing all of our holiday music/caroling music for the first time this year
I believe in choosing holiday music that can be learned really quickly. I take great pride in the quality of all arrangements I use (as I’ve written a few of them myself).
Dreidel (SATB) – fun, festive, and easy to learn!
Alumni Hour – IN ACTION!
When students enter the classroom, this is what is written on the board, minus the composers/arrangers that I placed here for the blog (links provided for all pieces):
Welcome home, alumni:
- O Come Emmanuel – (ed. Adam Paltrowitz)
- Thanksgiving/Fall Gratitude Round (Adam Paltrowitz)
- Simple Gifts (arr. Adam Paltrowitz)
- Wade in the Water – (Moses Hogan) – current choir only
- Danny Boy – (arr. Joseph Flummerfelt)
- Carol of the Bells – (arr. Wilhousky)
- Dreidel – (arr. Adam Paltrowitz)
- When Rooks Fly Homewd – (Arthur Baynon)
- Night of Silence – (Daniel Kantor)
- The Storm is Passing Over – (arr. Barbara Baker)
- Joy to the World – (arr. Adam Paltrowitz)
- Deck the Halls – (arr. Adam Paltrowitz)
- Oh Hanukkah (carol) (arr. Adam Paltrowitz)
- We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa (arr. Adam Paltrowitz)
- Siyahamba (arr. Adam Paltrowitz)
In this 40 minutes rehearsal, we sing from bell to bell. The only speaking my choir manager and I do is at the beginning of the rehearsal, where we welcome the alumni home.
The big take home points:
The value to this rehearsal is waaaaay more than what meets the eye. Here are some benefits for our choral program:
- New choir members experience alumni singing next to them, which ingrains the idea of sticking with the program and how important it could potentially be in their lives.
- New members are introduced to all of our holiday music from the alumni and experienced members of the choir. This breathes life and excitement into the holiday music and gets the new members to understand it is their responsibility to learn this music quickly, and mainly on their own.
- Seniors get to reminisce about when they were underclassmen. In many ways, it becomes a moment of self-reflection as they think, “am I being that same role model to underclassmen that these former students were for me”.
- Current officers get to show the previous officers that the choir is in good hands and running as well as ever before. The idea of legacy and maintaining meaningful tradition is such an important role for current officers.
- The alumni get to relive their 4-year high school experience AND prepare for singing at the winter concert. This rehearsal is a buy-in for the alumni, as many of them prepare to be alumni at the upcoming winter concert for the first time.
- This rehearsal is one more SPECIAL rehearsal that will stay in the minds and hearts of our students for years to come.
When our alumni join our current choir for the winter concert, it is truly a special moment. What makes this Pre-Thanksgiving rehearsal different from the winter concert is that there is no audience. The choir family gets to share a special musical moment together that doesn’t involve the reception of others.
This rehearsal never feels like a concert high; it feels more like Thanksgiving dinner and everyone sharing what they are grateful for. The alumni are grateful for having had this safe and special home for 4 years. The current choir is grateful for being part of a tradition of inclusion and acceptance. As a result, I’m grateful for having wonderful students who show compassion, dedication, and gratitude on a daily basis.
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