You Can’t Sing Dickens’ Christmas Carol . . .

Essay on Christmas Caroling.  Noted in Nashville.You Can’t Sing Dickens’ Christmas Carol . . .

. . . 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.

A Christmas Caroler's Essay. Noted in Nashville.

The part of Grumpy Old Man is portrayed by Ken Ruisi. He sings bass and tenor for our caroling group.  So much for typecasting.  Ken is the nicest man in the world.

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.

A Christmas Caroler's Essay.  Noted in Nashville.

The parts of The Drunk Sing-Along-ers are portrayed by Pam Randall, alto, Cris Blackman, tenor, and Ken Ruisi. They have sung with the group for five years and seen a lot of this.

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.

A Christmas Caroler's Essay. Noted in Nashville.

The part of The Distracted Shopper is portrayed by Lauren Redeker. Lauren sings soprano with our group.  For the record, she likes music more than handbags.

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?”

A Christmas Caroler's Essay.  Noted in Nashville.

The part of The Appreciators is portrayed by Ken Ruisi (you’ve met him) and Sheri Barry who is learning alto this year. Hopefully, she’ll see this group more than the previously mentioned groups.

The Appreciator

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.

A Christmas Caroler's Essay.  Noted in Nashville.

AJ portrays our favorite group. He is our biggest fan!

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.

Happy Holidays!

Anita, Noted in Nashville

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8 thoughts on “You Can’t Sing Dickens’ Christmas Carol . . .

  1. I don’t understand how people can act like that. I can’t imagine scowling at carolers or doing some of these worse things you describe. Music lightens one’s mood. And as someone who enjoys that background music, know that even if we don’t seem like we’re listening, we are. My family was eating at a sandwich shop once. Nothing fancy, but there was a young woman who came in during the lunch hour that day and played on her guitar and sang. Most of the patrons didn’t seem to pay much attention, but when she took a break, her absence was immediately noticeable. We all clapped and smiled when she came back. Now thanks to your post, I must remember to thank these folks on my way out. 🙂

    I’ll go share this on Twitter. Maybe squelch some potential would-be scrooges. 😉

    • Thanks Carrie! Saving the world one Scrooge at a time.

      Performing live can be very discouraging. There are stories floating around the internet of a famous violinist, and one story of Paul McCartney performing on the street anonymously. Inevitably, people passed by them without taking any notice. Children were nearly the only ones who appreciated the live music, but their parents rushed them along.

      Your stopping just to say thanks means more than you can imagine. Our group sang last night at an event. There were more children than usual in attendance. We felt like stars!!!

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