World Choir Games Flanders 2023

Christmas comes but once a year — so when to learn all the carols?

  • [The views expressed in this blog are from my personal experiences from 25 years of leading non-auditioned community choirs in the UK, as well as adult singing workshops. My focus is on teaching by ear using a repertoire of songs from traditions across the globe. Your experiences may differ from mine, so do feel free to leave a comment and let's begin a conversation! A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

     

    Christmas is coming. Time for concerts liberally sprinkled with seasonal songs.

     

     

    But when do you start learning your Christmas repertoire? It takes a lot of work to add songs to the repertoire and then you might only sing them once!

    It’s not just Christmas. Any special occasion, festival or season that needs specific songs can place a lot of demands on a choir. All that learning and then you can’t use the songs at any other time.

    Birthdays, harvest time, Hanukkah, summer solstice, funerals … there are plenty of occasions that need specific repertoire.

    Here are five option you might consider.

    1. make Christmas a big deal — some choirs pull out all the stops for Christmas. They start rehearsing in June and slowly build a large Christmas repertoire. When the season comes around they take every opportunity they can to perform, thus airing the songs as much as they can.

      Advantages: all your hard work pays off as you get to sing the songs plenty of times each year.
      Disadvantages: most of the summer and autumn is taken up with Christmas.
       
    2. the slow build — many choirs use this approach. When a choir is new and the first Christmas comes around, learn one or two carols without disrupting the rest of the autumn season. Then each year add one or two Christmas songs in a similar way. After a few years you’ll have quite a body of Christmas songs to choose from.

      Advantages: Christmas doesn’t take over the whole of the choir’s season of rehearsals, leaving time to learn other repertoire.
      Disadvantages: it will take a few years before you can build an entire concert of Christmas songs.
       
    3. modify and adapt — some songs are so specific to a particular occasion that they can’t be used at any other time. But others can be used for several different occasions. There are many general ‘celebration’ or ‘long life’ or ‘thankful and grateful’ songs that can easily be adapted to suit many occasions.

      Advantages: you can have a load of general-purpose songs in your repertoire that can be wheeled out for a whole range of occasions.
      Disadvantages: you might not end up with any specific Christmas songs.
       
    4. learn simple songs — rather than give the full-on four part harmony treatment to Christmas repertoire, work up some quick-to-learn, easy arrangements of well-known Christmas songs. Don’t insist that singers learn the lyrics for concerts and keep the arrangements really simple. Maybe even build in some audience participation.

      Advantages: learning these quick arrangements needn’t disrupt the rest of your rehearsals too much. Plus audiences love the well-known carols and will enjoy joining in.
      Disadvantages: a whole concert of simple arrangements can be a bit boring and not very challenging.
       
    5. avoid Christmas entirely — some choirs perform quite a lot at Christmas, but don’t sing specifically Christmas songs. They draw on their existing repertoire, maybe slanting choices towards winter or celebratory or happier songs.

      Advantages: you don’t have to consider learning Christmas songs at all.
      Disadvantages
      : most audiences (and many choir members) come to expect Christmas songs at Christmas.
       

    other posts

    You might find these other posts interesting:

    Why my choir doesn't sing carols at Christmas

    Get your family singing this Christmas - turn off the TV!

    Christmas carols are dying out - but are they really?

    Singing is for life, not just for Christmas!

    10 tips to get the whole family singing this Christmas



    Whatever you do with your choir, I hope your Christmas season will be a joyous and successful one.

     

    Have a very merry Christmas one and all, and thanks for reading!

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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