I miss singing in Christmas choirs.

From kindergarten through twelfth grade, I sang in at least one Christmas concert every year. As a child it was in a sea of gap-toothed littles squirming in the onstage risers, our cuteness mostly compensating for lack of diction or focus. Later, when taking choir as an elective from middle school onward, we’d begin the first day of classes in September by running through all the Christmas songs we’d perform three months later. By the time Christmas rolled around, I’d been in the holiday mood for months.

All twelve years of school choir were directed by Mrs. Middlin, whose boundless joy and energy were a pillar of our town’s Christmas spirit during her thirty-plus-year tenure as music teacher. Some years I performed in three or more Christmas concerts as a part of our church choir and the honor’s choir the next city over, where we had the privilege of singing while backed by the local symphony orchestra. One year our high school’s fall musical was “White Christmas,” which added a delightful fourth layer of Christmas music to the holiday lead-up. 

Solo performance opportunities came my way at Christmas, too. Songs from the perspective of Mary and Joseph were some that I loved to sing, or even just my favorite arrangement of O Holy Night. But while it’s fun to sing in the spotlight, solos can never hold a candle to choir singing. Sure, hitting the high note in “O Holy Night” by yourself is an accomplishment. But belting the high note in Handel’s Messiah in a hundredfold choir is true musical ecstasy. 

At Calvin I added my voice to two “Lessons and Carols” Christmas choir shows, and post-grad, to my church’s gospel choir. But recent years have brought vocal fatigue that’s made it tougher to sing as much as I used to. The high notes in the “Messiah” are out of reach to me today. And the past two covid Christmases had me singing only to the television during livestreamed church services. This year, though muffled by a mask, I’ve been thrilled to sing the old familiar carols in an in-person congregation.

I’ve curated an extensive Christmas playlist on Spotify that compiles my favorite Christmas songs, which extend beyond the overplayed radio classics. Some I first learned for choir performances, like these pieces from the Home Alone soundtrack. There’s “Simeon’s Lullaby” by Wendy and Mary; Casting Crowns’ rendition of “I Heard the Bells;” the poetic insults of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” A few other recent originals. The deliciously outdated synths of Mannheim Steamroller, which I still contend are absolute bangers. And, who am I kidding, a lot of the overplayed radio classics are on my playlist, too. They’ve lasted this long for a reason!

Christmas is a season that more than any other is defined by musicthe old and the new, the annoying and the dear. We all hold fast to our own Christmas music opinions. Many Americans insist on no Christmas music until Thanksgiving. But without a choir to sing in, I need my Christmas spirit earlier than that. Besides, Canadian Thanksgiving is in October. So there are no rules. 

My November and December have been full of music. I hope yours have also been full of what brings you joy.


Photo by Flickr user Alexander Rabb (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, no changes made)

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