Bringing Holiday Joy
by Amanda Cornaglia
It’s almost a cliche at this point - you sing year-round, therefore, you carol.
How could you resist? People are generous at the holiday and many are willing to shell out some serious cash to be entertained with the likes of Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls.
Sounds easy, right? Not exactly.
Planning & Logistics
Singing for the holidays isn’t something you can decide to do in November. Becoming a group that offers holiday music requires much more forethought, with rehearsals and planning starting over the summer or earlier. My own group will start booking for next season before New Year’s Eve this year.
Decide how many songs you want to offer and select your repertoire (more on that below). Don’t be afraid to mix in some traditional arrangements and 4-part hymns. People like hearing familiar songs that allow them to sing along. Throw in a handful that showcase your group’s style and personality. The best part about holiday music? You don’t have to be off book! Having a music folder can actually add to your appeal and saves you from memorizing the words to sixth verse of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
Speaking of God, many events will request that you skip over the Jesus music entirely. Or, at least limit it to a few and stay away from the deeply religious songs. Fill your set with as many non-denominational songs as you can.
Timing out learning songs and dedicated rehearsals can be a challenge, especially if your group has other priorities.Start early. Like, July. Cramming holiday music over Thanksgiving break is no fun for anyone and adding more stress to your performances isn’t a good thing for anyone involved.
You’ll also need to figure out what you are wearing. Peacoats and scarves in holiday colors? Silly holiday hats? Fancy dress? Or do you go all out and show up in Victorian-era costumes with petticoats and bonnets? The more into it you are, the happier your audience will be.
You’ll also need to manage schedules. Know when your singers are available and when they’re not. You don’t want to sign up for a mid-week holiday luncheon if you don’t have enough singers to make it sound good. Spreadsheets are my best friend this time of year.
Also, look for performance opportunities as early as you can. Many major events have already picked out their entertainment for next year, but the bulk of shows are booked over the summer or early fall. You’ll still get requests in the middle of December (We are still getting up to a dozen requests a day in early December!), but it’s a lot easier on you and your group if you have your schedule shored up early.
How does 100 reps of Carol of the Bells sound? Awesome?
Great - you’re off on the right start. Whether you are singing twice during the season or nearly everyday, you owe your audience 100% joy. The holidays are stressful and holiday music has one purpose - to help people feel the holiday spirit. You need to be feeling it, too - and remember to tell your face.
Most top level caroling services offer upwards of 50 holiday songs to their clients. Having a variety of choices allows you to accommodate both wishlists and do-not-play lists. Additionally, in more casual atmospheres, you’ll get requests. Our most requested songs? Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (Yes, my years of classical training are going to very good use.) Be ready to think on your feet to give your audience the best possible experience.
Hoping to get holiday gigs where you can just throw 2-3 holiday favorites in with your regular rep? These are few and far between for paid holiday appearances. Most clients will want anywhere from 30 minutes to a full day of only holiday music.
After a few years of trying, we also found that putting together a full holiday stage show may not be worth the investment. Unless you are touring at the level of Straight No Chaser, Pentatonix, Rockappella, or Home Free, landing a headlining holiday show in a concert hall is not likely. Think about whether your group has the time, skill, and desire to learn and plan a 60-90 minute staged show when the majority of holiday clients want the homey feel of off-mic caroling.
In many places, the weather is turning colder. Flu season is underway. You’re likely invited to half a dozen holiday parties where you know people are showing up with some contagious disease. People in the office come in sick. College students are rundown preparing for finals.
On top of that, many holiday performances are outside - even when the temperatures dip to freezing or below. One wrong move and you could be out for the count for most or all of this short season. You’ll want to do everything you can to stay off the sidelines. This is even more important if you are singing with a quartet or other one-on-a-part ensemble.
If you’re a serious singer, these are things you should be doing always, but especially during the holiday season:
- Drink copious amounts of water.
- Get real sleep.
- Limit alcohol and drug use.
- Try not to shout at busy holiday parties.
- Invest in quality warm clothing and don’t forget the gloves.
- Avoid crowded places where you are likely to get sick.
- Wash your hands. A lot.
- If you are sick, do whatever you can to stay away from the other carolers. The domino effect is real.
- Exercise. Your body needs to move to counteract standing in the cold for 4 hours straight.
Your director doesn’t want to see you sick and replacing you at the last minute can be difficult, if not impossible.
Is all of this not really your cup of eggnog? That’s ok! There are plenty of opportunities to use your voice to bring holiday cheer. If you’re just starting out, there are plenty of places to sing, whether it be for sheer fun or to hone your skills for a professional season in the future.
Here are some venues that would enjoy some gratis entertainment during the holidays:
- Nursing Homes
- Small community tree lighting events
- Small Holiday Markets
- Family holiday parties
- Retirement communities
- Non-profit events like food banks and toy drives.
And there is always good old fashioned busking. Just be sure to check your local laws and regulations - you may need a permit. Private property (like retail space) may also require permission from management.
And what if your whole group isn’t into caroling? You still have options! If you live near a major city, there is likely already a professional caroling service in your area. Audition! If not, reach out to members of other local groups and create a super group of other people that want to sing during the holidays. It’s always more fun to sing with people that want to be there.
Whatever you decide, enjoy the holiday season! It’s a wonderful reminder of how magical a cappella can be.
Amanda Cornaglia is the owner of Clear Harmonies Productions and manages 5 performing groups, including a seasonal caroling group, the Clear Harmonies Carolers. The rest of the year you can find her running live sound, coaching, arranging, managing Acaville Radio, and singing things other than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.