. . . but we still run into Scrooges.
I have a professional caroling group. Have I ever told you that? Yes, we are one of those groups. Perhaps second only to the mime are we in popular culture’s running gag of “don’t make eye contact” and “hide before they see you.” I’m pretty sure the only reason the mime has us beat is because we are a seasonal occurrence. Mimes work year-round.
Dressed in Victorian garb – capes and funny hats included – we regale the shoppers, socialites, and party-goers of the holiday. This is tradition. Musicians spend their lives studying the fine (delicate, subtle, superior, excellent, trained, intense, pure, refined) art of their instrument. Listeners spend their evenings diverting their attention to a plate of hors d’oeuvres or a sale rack of Juicy Couture iPhone cases.
Do you remember this scene from Titanic? The band continues to play on the deck as the ship sinks. One musician says, “What’s the use? Nobody’s listening to us anyway.” The first violinist answers, “Well, they don’t listen to us at dinner either.” This scene often occurs to me when I perform with the gifted singers in my caroling group. And when I say to them, “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight,” they get the joke. At least no one dies at the end of one of our gigs.
We do get noticed from time to time. And we do get reactions. Oh boy, do we ever get reactions. Below are some of our most common and memorable experiences.
The Grumpy Old Man
Last year, I sent the singers to a gig without me. They’ve been doing this for five years, and they really don’t need me to sing at every event. This particular performance was for a private party at a country club. A very common booking for us, the plan is usually the same – sing at the entrance as guests arrive, sing during the tree lighting/menorah lighting, sing “Here Comes Santa Clause” during his grand entrance, stroll from table to table as guests enjoy their meal.
These events are no picnic. We perform a cappella (without instruments) and without sound equipment. No matter the acoustics, when 200 guests are crammed into a dining room and hold 100 different conversations, we strain to hear one another’s parts and inevitably strain our voices. “Strolling” is a misnomer. What we do is shuffle between tables, dodging sliding chairs, running children, and servers with 25 pounds of drinks balanced over their heads.
Although we sweat a lot under our capes, taking requests from guests is no-sweat. We know over 60 arrangements of traditional carols and contemporary holiday songs. We also have two Hanukkah songs. If they can think of it, it is likely in our repertoire.
At this gig last year, the group received an unexpected and very specific requisition. As they approached this party-of-eight’s table, the singers asked our standard question, “Does anyone have a request?”
An older gentleman answered for the entire table . . . loudly. “Yeah! Go away!” he snapped.
His wife was mortified.
His request was granted.
The Drunken Sing-Along
“Pick up the tempo!” the glassy-eyed man yelled midway through “White Christmas.”
“That’s not the way it goes” a woman swayed with wrinkled nose during “Jingle Bells.”
“Hey everybody! SHHHUUUTUP! They’re trying to sing!” our inebriated ally shouted after a false start of “Winter Wonderland.”
“What songs have you got?” bourbon-breath-guy exhaled over my shoulder.
They will never remember standing in front of us, pretending to conduct a symphony, flailing their arms like a wounded bird as we sang “O Holy Night.”
But we will.
The Distracted Shopper
The look of annoyance on a shopper’s face is difficult to take. I can’t help but judge the person who is rude enough to snarl at a group of singers in the middle of “Joy to the World.” I am only mildly amused and comforted by the irony of it.
But there is faction of this group that is a mystery to me. Their senses appear to go on lock-down, using only that which is necessary for the act of shopping. Are perfume bottles spontaneously exploding? They cannot smell them. Are mannequins flying? They cannot see them. Are carolers singing? They cannot hear them.
Maybe we should model Burberry handbags and Jimmy Choo ballet flats while singing . . . “Do you hear what I hear?”
There are still people in the world who love what we do. We have made our way onto more phones, cameras, Facebook pages, emails, and You Tube videos than I can count. Sometimes they take our picture. Sometimes they have their picture taken with us. Sometimes they stop and listen. Sometimes they stand nearby as they shop or eat. Sometimes they nod their heads in rhythm to the music. Sometimes they hum. Sometimes they even clap.
We deeply appreciate the appreciators. They make us feel that standing around for hours in uncomfortable shoes; literally singing with feathers in our cap isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s down-right fun.
The Enamored Child
This is the group that makes bearing all other groups worthwhile. Children know something that adults used to know, but have forgotten – there is something special about music. There is something special about Christmas music, and the wonder of it still lives in them.
When children hear live voices, they cannot help but stop to listen. Sometimes shy, sometimes excited, there is always a twinkle in their eyes. When we acknowledge them with a smile or a wave, the reactions on their faces say, “Wow! This is really happening. That caroler just waved at me.”
For them we sing “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Rudolph” approximately 110 times a season. And because of them, we feel the magic of those songs every time.
So, the next time you see a group of carolers like ours at your local mall or favorite golf & country club, it’s okay to make eye contact. And if you can be bothered to offer us the slightest smile, we would like that too. It shouldn’t hurt much. We promise not to make you sing along, or follow you around like a shadow.
I make no such guarantees for the mime.
– Anita, Noted in Nashville