If your choir, praise team or other group has never gone Christmas caroling you absolutely must. Our church choir has done this for several years now, and I can’t even begin to put into words here what a rewarding, absolutely wonderful feeling it is to go out and do this once a year. We have arrangements with about 4 or 5 locations who expect us to come out once a year and have scheduled our visit. (It’s very important, by the way, that you call ahead and get permission from the locations you’d like to visit ahead of time.)
We simply pile into our cars and follow each other from location to location, visiting nursing homes and other chosen locations that have been arranged in advance. If your ministry has a small bus or van, that would be even better. But I can’t tell you what it’s like to see the faces of people in Wal-mart when we begin to sing and the sound starts to carry throughout the store. Or the smile on the faces of the residents at the nursing homes when we finish singing and begin talking and visiting with them. Often we have trouble leaving a particular location because people keep asking us to come to their section or department and sing.
One main reason, I believe, that it touches people so much is because we actually sing songs that lend themselves well to being sung a cappella. the nursing homes actually get a lot of people coming by to sing, as you can imagine. But it’s very common for both residents and staff members to comment to us about how much better we sound than most who come through. The secret? I carefully chose the songs we sing every year to insure that they are songs that actually sound good a cappella. Then we just learn pretty basic 3 part harmony and actually rehearse for our caroling outing. I note which keys we do each song and then at the location I put us in the right key using a simple pitch pipe.
The mistake many groups make when going out to sing is that they simply choose Christmas songs from their Sunday morning song list, or songs written to be sung with music. These songs were written around heavy musical arrangements, so they don’t often transfer well to being sung a cappella.
The worse thing when you’re singing a cappella is to have large spaces where nothing’s really happening except this awkward clapping and stomping where music would normally be playing. So the key to going out caroling and actually sounding good is to choose standard Christmas carols that have constant lyrical movement and no dead spaces or required leaders. With minimal effort I was able to find a handful of these and easily create simple 3 part harmony arrangements for them.
Here are my top 5 Christmas Carols that sound great A Cappella.
1. Joy To The World
2. Oh Come All Ye Faithful
3. Hark The Harold Angels Sing
4. Angels We Have Heard On High
5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Now, here’s how to go out caroling with these songs and sound so good they’ll want you back every year. The first 3 tips definitely need to be done by the musician and/or parts instructor/director.
1. Assign a key to each song.
Keep these keys as close in proximity to each other as the vocal arrangement will allow. This way it’s easy to quickly identify the key with a pitch pipe or even the little piano app on your I-Phone
2. Create a simple 3 part vocal arrangement for each song, soprano alto and tenor.
Do SATB if you have that luxury. Writing the arrangements should be as simple as taking the well-known melody line from each song, assigning it to Soprano or Alto and then writing harmony around that. We just use SAT every year and it sounds just fine for caroling.
3. Dedicate one rehearsal to learning the vocal harmony.
The entire rehearsal should be done a cappella with only a pitch pipe or your piano app to give the key.
4. Use lyric sheets!
This is the one time it’s perfectly acceptable and even expected for the choir or group to sing with lyric sheets in front of them. It makes everything that much easier to perfect, and it actually looks more christmas-y, lol . One of our administrators usually puts our lyric sheets into nice red or green folders so it looks good as we stand and sing.
5. Coordinate your colors.
It never hurts to look good out there, and when you’re all wearing similar colors it’s very easy to identify you as a group. We usually simply wear red tops and denim bottoms.
If you guys can put this together this year- even as few as 3 songs- try going out caroling this year. This is an annual event for our church choir. Attendance is not “mandatory”, per se, so we usually have a small group of 10 people or less. But with the right songs and just basic 3 part harmony, it really makes an impact every year. You really haven’t understood the true meaning of music ministry until you take it outside the walls and do something like this. It’s an amazing feeling, and once you do it you’ll be hooked.