Chicago-area singers get ready for the holiday season

Think of the Christmas carols and the happy, smiling singers dressed in red and green outfits encircling “Jingle Bells” probably come to mind.

But for professional Christmas carol groups in Chicago, the holiday cheer isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life. Customers often book Chicago song groups months in advance to come in costume and ready to play any style of music. While some formal venues like corporate parties call for hymn arrangements, more relaxed performances celebrate Christmas pop classics.

Bill Kavanagh, director and owner of Holiday Harmony Strolling Carolers, said his singers have an extensive musical repertoire.

“We can sing anything at the drop of a hat,” Kavanagh said. “Sometimes there are people who talk to us about music and say, ‘Here, can you sing that? And they bring you a whole new arrangement.

Emphasizing the importance of participation, he said Christmas carols should be interactive – a back-and-forth process between singers and audience members.

Kavanagh said that sometimes music can elicit deep emotional reactions.

“One table asked for that innocuous Christmas song, ‘Jolly Old Saint Nicholas’,” Kavanagh said. “This older gentleman burst into tears, and it turned out to be his late wife’s favorite Christmas song. The music evokes all this emotion, which is extremely touching.

Jeffrey Deutsch, former musical director of the Classic Ring Carolers, said the work of the musicians themselves is more than it looks.

“Singing for three hours from 7 am is difficult,” Deutsch said. “We also meet and only rehearse once or twice, then we were sent as a quartet. ”

Traditional chants consist of a four-part harmony with soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, which blend together to create a uniform sound. But the singers’ voices aren’t the only thing in sync.

Jaclyn Brown, Executive Director of the American Caroling Company, adheres to strict costume standards for her performances, based on customer requests.

“The traditional Victorian look is our most popular option,” Brown said. “But we do holiday sweaters, we can do everything in black, whatever the customers want.”

The joy of Christmas carols lasts well beyond the holiday season for musicians, who have a deep passion for what they do.

While business picks up in the fall for a full December, the singers don’t stop after the holidays. Rose Colella, jazz singer and owner of the Lola Bard Carolers, operates her business year round.

“People are contacting as early as January for the coming season, especially those who are repeat customers,” Colella said.

Colella, who has expanded her Chicago-based business to Los Angeles, said her responsibilities include responding to customer inquiries, signing contracts, arranging payment for singers, ordering costumes and sorting logistics. .

Overall, Colella said the process was intensive but worth it.

“How many other jobs are there where every person that passes you – their face lights up, they want to take a picture of you, the kids are overjoyed and start to cheer,” Colella said. “It’s just a constant joy, and it’s really rare to have a job that brings people so much joy.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @charlottehrlich

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