How To Take Your Group Christmas Caroling And Actually Sound Good

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.

 

How your musical gift is like a Sweet Potato Pie

Thanksgiving day in America is steeped in tradition, the most important of which is the tradition for families and friends all over the country to come together and break bread. While everyone has their own favorite food staples, you’re almost sure to find Sweet Potato Pie on the menu at most gatherings. So I thought it would be a fun, visual way to look at a basic, fundamental truth regarding how all singers and musicians in music ministry should see their gift.  I’ll use myself and a fictitious friend in this little story to make it easy.

So imagine with me for a few minutes. It’s Thanks Giving day. I’ve spent all night long making my prize-winning Sweet Potato Pie. But I have to go in to work for a half a day and I don’t want the pie to arrive to the family dinner too late for everyone to enjoy. So I ask my friend to take it with her to the family dinner and I’ll join everyone later.

A few hours later at the family gathering everyone has finished dinner and is starting on the dessert table. A few people get a slice of the Sweet Potato Pie and start raving to my friend about it. “Oh my God Janice this pie is amazing!” “Girl you did your thing with this!” The complements keep coming as word gets around the house about how good the pie is. Meanwhile Janice is glowing and enjoying all the complements. Smiling and thanking everyone for the kind words. “Oh, thank you! God bless you! I’m so glad you like it so much!”

Later I arrive at the dinner after work ready to eat. it doesn’t take long for people to start coming up to me raving about how good my friend’s Sweet Potato Pie is. They go on and on about how great a cook she is, and how they’ve never had pie like that. And how I should really take some lessons from her!

I look at her and smile, but I don’t say anything. After all, I love her. She’s my friend. I would never embarrass her. But I know in my heart that SHE knows she didn’t bake that pie. She only delivered it. And I can’t understand why she wouldn’t give me the credit for it. Why wouldn’t she just say “oh thank you but actually Ron made it. I just delivered it for him”. I may never scold her or punish her or even mention it to her again. But the next time I need to choose someone to deliver something I created I’d be a lot more careful to choose someone whom I know won’t take the glory for themselves.

As singers, musicians, directors and worship leaders…whatever your gift is, we should all endeavor to think of our gifts just like that Sweet Potato Pie.  It’s not our creation. It doesn’t belong to us. We didn’t bake it, we were simply the ones God chose to deliver it to His people. So when the praises, kudos and complements come, we must always be sure to never take the credit for a pie we didn’t bake.

 

Vocal health for the holidays

The Christmas season is upon us, and with it comes all the usual things we think about this time of year. Lots more visiting, lots more shopping, running around- and for us, a lot more singing. So this time, maybe a little more-so than other times of the year, we really need to be a bit more aware of how we’re treating our voices. Here are some simple things to be mindful of this time of year.

1. Stay Healthy!

You can’t sing at your best if you’re sick, so job one for the busy singer is do as much as possible to stay healthy. Believe it or not the number one way to avoid getting sick is frequent hand-washing. Most of the “stuff” we end up with happens because we touched something with someone’s germs on it – a hand-rail, a door-knob, a phone- and then touched our face for some reason. Washing your hands often and/or keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer with you can go a long way towards keeping you crud-free.

In addition to that though, it’s just a good idea to do the normal things many of us overlook or just plain avoid. Like getting the Flu shot every year, bundling up well, staying dry and making sure we get important vitamins our immune system needs to work at it’s best.

2. Drink water!

It’s very important for everyone to drink water on a regular basis, but it’s even more important for a singer for a lot of obvious reasons. But here’s probably the most important reason this time of year. Usually most of us will get some kind of head cold despite our best efforts. When all that phlegm starts draining, it can sit in your throat and on your vocal cords, hindering your ability to sing at your best. Drinking water on a regular basis keeps phlegm thinner so it drains off your cords easier and there’s less build-up.

3. Watch what, when and how much you eat!

This time of year there is always an abundance of food.  And many of those foods can cause swelling or inflamation, even irritation of the vocal cords. Dairy products, for example, actually creates a lot of phlegm in the body and, for many singers,  should be avoided altogether for at least a day before a singing engagement. Other common holiday foods like sugar and pretty-much all white processed foods can cause problems for singers. The key is to eat everything in moderation.

NEVER eat a really big meal within two hours of a singing engagement. In addition to the extra bloating and weight it places on your stomach and diaphragm (which makes it harder for you to breathe properly for singing) eating a big meal before singing will make you tired, less alert and just more lethargic overall. That’s because after a big meal most of your body’s energy is being diverted to the task of digesting the food.

4. Warm up!

We know how important warming up is for singers (even though most of us still don’t do it), but when the weather turns cold it becomes even more important. Just like all the other muscles in your body, your vocal cords don’t work as good when they’re cold. Take some extra time before a holiday engagement and get your voice good and warmed up before singing.  You’ll be glad you did.

The key to vocal health during the holidays really isn’t much different than the rest of the year when you think about it. It”s not about living a life of deprivation by any stretch. It’s really more about simply doing things a little smarter, with a little more thought and with a little more moderation around those times when you have singing engagements planned. Of course, the most important thing you can do to keep your voice healthy all year round is to training it by taking vocal lessons! Get started with my free 5 day course below.

Image courtesy of magerymajestic FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Christmas with family

Are you shaking your head in disbelief like I am that Christmas is actually 3 days away at this writing? I mean where did an entire year go?! I actually sat down today without a topic to write about. It’s an emotional time for me, this Christmas. Because this is the first one I’ll spend alone, that I can remember. My emotions are mixed. There is, of course, all the joy of the season that comes along with this time of year for me. It’s just a beautiful time, even with all the hustle and bustle, the increased work-flow in music ministries as we prepare and deliver all of the extra rehearsals and performances the season demands.
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