Monday, November 28, 2016

Why my choir doesn’t sing carols at Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Most choirs are busy rehearsing for their Christmas concerts.

Carol singers
photo by Prayitno

But my choir, The OK Chorale, isn’t. Here’s why we don’t sing Christmas carols.

It’s not that I’m a curmudgeon or a Scrooge. OK, maybe I am, but that’s not the point.

start planning for Christmas … at Christmas?

If you’re going to do justice to a concert of Christmas carols then you’re going to have to put the time in for proper rehearsals. Which means you have to start a good few months before your December concert date.

The start of the autumn term in September is too late if you’re going to learn a bunch of new songs (and nobody wants to hear exactly the same carols as you sang last year), so maybe you need to start rehearsing the songs in the summer term. Which means June sometime.

In which case you’d better have chosen the carols by Easter.

Allowing some time for research and making some really good and original choices, that means you’d probably best start in early spring.

But hey, there’s the spring term and concert to sort out so you’re bound to be too busy. Maybe better to start sometime in the New Year. In January. Which, of course, is a busy time with family, parties and recovering from last year’s Christmas carol concert.

So the perfect time to start planning is right after your Christmas concert.

That means that the whole year is spent thinking about one single tiny concert that happens to occur around Christmas. All that work and there’s only one time of the year you can sing those songs.

is there an alternative?

The alternative (and some choirs do this) is to churn out the same old carols year after year which is perhaps what the public want: familiarity.

For me that’s deathly. And unoriginal. And very, very dull.

By all means have a concert at Christmas and maybe even throw in the odd seasonal song. It doesn’t have to be a well-known carol, it could be from any of the cultures which celebrate Christmas.

At least it means that the audience will be surprised. It’s different (and you’ll stand out amongst all the other Christmas concerts going on).

Years ago with my first few community choirs, I used to teach one new Christmas song each year (which meant we didn’t have to start learning it until the autumn term). Over the years we built up quite a nice selection of Christmas songs from all around the world. We would sprinkle a couple in our concert each December, fill the rest of the programme with other stuff, and teach the audience a simple arrangement of a well-known carol at the end. Everyone was happy.

These days I’ve got off the concert treadmill, and my choir The OK Chorale perform one major concert a year in the spring. Cleverly avoiding the Christmas thing!

Although this year we will be appearing on Ipswich railway station to do a short set in aid of Health Poverty Action.

“We don’t do Christmas carols” I said. “No matter”, they replied, “it will make a nice change to have something different in the programme.”

So we’re going to do a couple of songs from South Africa, a gospel song, a Slovakian gypsy dance song, a Taizé Gloria, a song about Peace and a carol.

Yes, a carol, but not a Christmas carol: an Easter carol – Hail Smiling Morn.

Should be fun.

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Chris Rowbury



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Chris Rowbury


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