Caroling is an important part of many choral programs; caroling day is my choir’s most favorite tradition of the entire school year. It is also the most highly-anticipated musical event of our entire school district, as we carol down every hallway of every district building (4 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and central administration).
This year, this is not a possibility. It is heartbreaking for our students and equally heartbreaking for all of the young children and teachers who are usually so excited to see their former students who have now become young adults.
Singing for the holiday season is still important
Whether in-person, hybrid, or fully remote, there are ways our choir can musically embrace the holiday season and reach our community. Before discussing the best way to reach the community, we should simply pull out our holiday caroling packet.
If your choir is fully remote, the simplest idea for live singing would be sitting at the piano and having your students sing the melodies to all of your holiday songs while on mute. Another option would be making a recording for them to sing along with at home. Even caroling part tapes could be fun. If you are tech savvy, you can make a part tape for each voice part and also one that omits their part; this is a great way to challenge your remote singers to hold their part.
We can still sing for our Community
Before I go through my choir’s specific solution, I want to explain that while every situation is different, every situation has a solution. In fact, every situation has multiple solutions; solutions range from very simple to labor-intensive.
The purpose of sharing our chosen solution is to spark the idea that there are different ways we can still have a positive effect on our community, which, in turn, will bring joy to our own singers.
Why do we carol?
Our primary goal for caroling is to spread joy during the holiday season. In my blog post, 15 Tips for Caroling with Seasonal Spirit & Maximum Impact, I explain how “singing well” while caroling is far less important than many of us think. Yes, I hope our choir sings with beautiful tone, but at the end of the day, caroling is all about the human interaction, sharing smiles, and evoking a sense of community everywhere we go.
Jingle Bells (SATB) – download instantly for free – easy to learn!
Our corona-caroling Decision
Our mixed choir, which would normally meet every day for 40 minutes, now meets in a hybrid schedule with half the choir meeting on Monday/Wednesday and the other meeting on Tuesday/Thursday (all students sing 12 feet apart and masked). When students are remote, they are watching the live-streamed rehearsal along with a small number of fully virtual students.
For this season, we chose to make a “live” caroling video, including all students in our mixed choir. We decided to record two consecutive rehearsals to account for the all in-person members and their virtual counterparts. All students, in person or remote, were encouraged to dress festively.
Both choirs stood in a giant circle where a centered 360 degree camera recorded 30 straight minutes. The choirs sang the following traditional caroling songs (all of these pieces, with the exception of Carol of the Bells, are my own arrangements):
We Wish You A Merry Christmas (with recognition of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa)
Each fully remote singer was represented by placing a streaming chromebook in the circle, where we could see their face as they are singing along; in reality, the remote students will be muted, but their joyous faces will be there!
Both choirs recorded all the carols a few times. From there, I tried to balance the recordings of both choirs. Since the video is 360 degrees, no editing is needed, as it’s up to the viewer to decide where they wish to look.
The video will be released the final evening before the winter break, and it will be played for all schools in the district on the day before the break; this would have been the day we traditionally would have visited all of the schools. The video will also be posted prominently on our district website. If you are interested in viewing the final video, once it comes out, be sure to be subscribed to the blog and you will receive a link in the inbox as soon as it is released.
Virtual wins and losses
This approach is not our first choice but it does bring a few positives that ordinarily would not occur with our traditional, in-person caroling. As a result of making this video, our students will:
- forever have a caroling video that will be featured on the internet
- be able to share this with their families across the country and around the world
- have a positive musical memory from the pandemic – mask-wearing, social distancing and all
But what if your choir is fully virtual?
I know what those of you who are fully virtual are thinking: I sure wish we could meet in-person. I don’t have the time, desire, or skill to make a virtual choir video.
Well, I agree with those thoughts. But I’d like to offer a solution. Well, it’s not really a solution, but more, a direction to point you.
1. Remember that the goal here is for your choir members to spread joy, not to sing incredibly well
With that concept, I suggest that less is more. Don’t try to create something spectacular; instead try to create something that is meaningful.
2. This doesn’t have to be a high-quality, professional production
While I believe regular virtual choir videos should have high-quality, edited and mixed sound, I don’t believe caroling videos need this.
THIS is not a stand-alone virtual choir video. This is a caroling experience we are trying to create. Compare a winter concert performance to a caroling experience; that is the difference between a well-produced virtual choir video and a caroling video. It’s a different audience and therefore requires different results. Audience members aren’t judging the purity of our choir’s vowels. They are looking for joyous faces, and want to sing along.
3. Unison singing OR unison singers will work just fine
There’s no reason your choir, at any age-level, can’t sing in unison, if needed. In addition, if editing voices is too difficult, it’s certainly easy to have students sing lines, one at a time. For example, if singing “Joy to the World”, one student can sing the first line and another singer can sing line two.
I would record a master track that all students would listen to in their ear while recording. The master track would have the correct key, tempo, and either the melody or the accompaniment (if accompaniment is intended to be used).
Students could submit their videos on Flipgrid, which would make it easy to store all the videos in one place. A secondary option could be creating an assignment on Google Classroom, were they can import all recordings.
Oh Hanukkah (SATB) – perfect for caroling – short, sweet, and instantly downloadable – .75 per copy
Outside perspective can make a big difference
It wasn’t my idea to come up with a caroling video. A few weeks back, my principal asked if our choir could make a caroling video. My first response to any administrator’s request is usually “yes”, because it’s an honor to have administrators who view what we do as important. But, my first inward thought was, “I don’t have the time or desire to make an elaborate virtual choir video.”
Ironically, it was my principal who provided the common sense approach to “just record the rehearsal.” Once that thought was imprinted into my brain, I realized how simple and effective this video could be.
While I do realize that a fully virtual choral program poses different challenges, I also recognize splicing together individual videos of singers is something that most high school students and many middle school students have the technical capability of doing.
This is certainly a trying time for all of us; if we can spread joy during this holiday season, our choir members will likely be the ones who leave a final, positive, joyous impression of 2020 for our community!