Guest Post | Caroling Party for the Holidays: A How To For Your Kids & You

This Guest Post is by my sister, Lori Henriques

Caroling is Catching!

As a music teacher, I often find myself inviting people over to perform or participate in some kind of music. One of my best memories is a Richard Rodgers Centennial celebration back in 2002 in which guests were instructed to BYOP: Bring your own performance of a Richard Rodgers piece. Joel brought two turntables and a drum machine for his yodeling hip-hop arrangement of “The Lonely Goatherd”. But that’s a story for another day.

One of our favorite musical gatherings is just around the corner ~ our yearly caroling party. We’ve been doing it for years now, and with trial and error we’ve gotten it down to a science. The first year we did it, our son was the tiniest guy on the block. My husband and I thought it would be fun for him to experience a house full of people joyfully singing, so we packed the whole neighborhood into our living room. We handed out lyric sheets to the adults and percussion instruments to the pre-reading kids. I hadn’t yet learned to sift out the louder percussion instruments, and the kids were really going for it with those bells and whistles. Matt and I looked at each other laughingly, wondering if we were in over our heads…

Then the magic happened. Once we started singing our hearts out, they were caught up in the moment and really started getting into it. By the time we’d gotten through our lyric sheets and were ready for apple crisp, everyone was overflowing about how fun it was to sing in a group, and how long it had been since they’d done that. Basically, we were all transported back to childhood.

Here’s what we’ve learned over the years to help our caroling parties go smoothly:

1. Lyric Sheets ~ You can easily make your own using cut-and-paste with lyrics found online. The party flows well with minimal verses to each song, and we’ve noticed that repeating the first verse can help carolers build confidence. We include 12 songs in our lyric sheets, and sing as many as it seems people are in the mood to sing. Typically, we get through them all and leave people wishing for more. It’s always good to leave people wishing for more, I think.

2. Song Leader ~ When someone is singing his or her heart out in front of the group, the energy is catching! Even if it takes a couple minutes, it will happen.

3. Accompaniment ~ A pianist or guitarist is marvelous and probably the most available. And the more the merrier! Last year we added a violinist, and that was a real treat. As far as percussion goes, I’ve learned to hand out only the quietest of shakers so the singing will be the strongest sound in the room. And speaking of strong singing, if you find yourself without accompaniment and still want to have a caroling party, plan ahead for a song leader with a strong voice and a good sense of rhythm and go for it!

4. Diversity ~ My family celebrates Christmas, so the bulk of our caroling features Christmas songs. Since we’ve always had Hanukkah celebrators in our midst, we’ve enjoyed including Hanukkah songs as well. Last year we lucked out when one of the best Jewish music teachers in town, also a dear friend and student family, came with her guitar in hand. She really broadened our repertoire of Hanukkah songs, and it was a particularly rousing element of our party.

Over the years, we’ve also led caroling at various friends’ parties. Last year we joined a fervent group of Solstice-celebrators, and this year in addition to our own party we’re singing at three others, including our first time singing in an elder care home. Caroling together is unifying, and just plain fun. It’s a marvelous way to bring voices of all ages and paths together into a present moment of pure joy.

You who gravitate to Joel’s blog are all über-creative, and I look forward to hearing about your musical holiday traditions in the comments. Happy singing to you all this season!

22 Comments

  1. November 28, 2011 at 10:43 am

    This is an awesome idea! My little one is barely two but i still think she would have fun with this.

    1. November 28, 2011 at 11:06 am

      For sure ~ you'll be giving her something so wonderful! And, if she's like our young son, she may not even sing at a gathering like this at her age, but she'll definitely be soaking it all in. And now, at age five, my son is singing to himself all day long, and lots of carols lately now that we've been hearing and singing them more together this season. Pure joy!

  2. November 28, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Hi there. Just popping over from Adventures at Home. Love this post. Do you know the Millie-Molly-Mandy stories? There's the most wonderful tale in which she and her friends (Billy Blunt and Little Friend Susan) practise and practise and then have the most magical carolling concert on Christmas Eve 'just for the fun of it.' Worth checking out for inspiration!

    1. November 28, 2011 at 11:03 am

      Wow! A most lovely sounding book, and you're the first person to tell me about it. Awesome. And a whole new series, at that. Thank you, Julia!

    2. November 28, 2011 at 11:23 am

      NIce! I'll have to check this book out too. Thanks Cecilia! And thanks for this great post Lori! Looking forward to seeing together soon!

  3. November 28, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I think teaching kids art with other fields of study bring out more diverse ideas and appreciation- interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, mathematical, and even verbal-kids can express their creativity through learning different forms of art. Thank you so much for your step-by-step instruction, and I should certainly give it a try since my kids can play the strings: Viola and Violin.

    1. November 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm

      Yes, yes, yes! I totally agree with you. How thrilling that your children are playing viola and violin, and indeed it would be marvelous for them to be part of a musical party! And even if it turns out they'd rather sing than play along with the carols, it's great opportunity to perform their own solos in a focused yet relaxed setting.

  4. November 28, 2011 at 11:45 am

    We love going caroling and this year I think I am going to try to bring someone that plays the guitar with us! Thanks for the great tips!!

    1. November 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm

      It definitely supports the singing to add a guitar. It sounds like you take your caroling on the road, yes? If so, how does that work? Do you stay within your own block, or walk farther than that?

  5. Francine
    November 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    We are Caroling for Chanukah!

    1. November 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm

      Love it! Do you use a music book you could recommend?

    2. Francine
      December 6, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      We will be putting together our own!

    3. December 6, 2011 at 9:51 pm

      Ooh, great idea! :)

  6. November 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    This is a great idea!!! WE have done cookie parties and christmas craft parties - but never a carol party!!! Love the idea totally!!! Totally!!!

    1. November 28, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      Awesome! And you could totally include a crafting element, too! I hadn't thought of that... And it could even be that the craft is related to one of the songs? Hmm...

  7. Brynne
    November 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Okay, I'm going to geek out hard core here. Somehow although I've been reading Made by Joel on and off for a long time and Something You Learn is one of my favorite songs on Kids Place Live, I did not know that this much creativity came from one family. Totally made my day.

    1. November 29, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      Your sweet and enthusiastic comment totally made my day. :) Thank you, Brynne! And thank goodness for Mindy of The Absolutely Mindy Show for taking a chance on my music after noting that it was different from what they usually play.

    2. November 30, 2011 at 7:52 pm

      Ha, too kind. Thanks Brynne.

  8. December 20, 2011 at 3:16 am

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  9. January 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    A late comment for next time: if you have beginner violin players in your group, they can accompany Silent night with pizzicato on open strings (easy enough to figure out if you play the guitar or the piano yourself). Write the letters and point to one for each half bar. Tell everyone else to sing so quitely that they can hear the stars twinkling ...

    1. January 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm

      Beautiful and practical all at once. Thank you! And I love your image for helping the ensemble balance. :)

  10. May 2, 2013 at 5:50 pm

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