Here we go again, another elementary school Christmas concert approaching. For elementary band and string directors who have been teaching 15 years or longer your eyes start to roll just thinking about the same ol’, same ol’. For younger new directors, you have probably, the first of many challenges you’ll experience through the years. That challenge being finding enough material other than the four songs found in the traditional band method books to fill a complete concert. (Not using “Merrily We Roll Along” or “Hot Cross Buns” or basic patterns accompanied with titles).
Yes, we all have suitable personalities for our chosen profession. However, “Jingle Bells”, “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”,and “Up On The Roof Top” start to wear thin after a few winter concert seasons testing whether this or any music educator can long endure.
I have a suggestion for young and more experienced directors as well. Check out “The Yankee Collection” This beginner band (or string) supplement has a Christmas Song section, and a Chanucha Song section that will supply you with multiple options for your holiday performances.
Actually, looking back 3 or 4 hundred years or more, you will find quite a few appropriate songs, some original and some borrowed from ancient customs reaching back as much as 3 thousand years. “Deck The Halls” is a great example. If you try some of these songs in the “Christmas” section, you might say: “What a nice melody” or “Hey, I’ve heard that song somewhere before”.
About 8 years ago my friend David, a Berklee professor on a Revolutionary War drum and I, on the fife, performed in many different venues and functions throughout the New England area. For some reason people loved us at Christmas time. One of the songs I suggested we do was “Coventry Carole”, an old English song. I told Dave that he probably had heard it mindlessly during the holidays for years. He was not convinced at first until one day, in a typical NE town, I heard it playing in the town square. He didn’t notice it, so I drew his attention to it. That was one of those rare “Jim, you are right” moments. Listen to “Coventry Carole”! I hope you agree with Dave. Solemn sounding with a narrow range for beginners.
There is a hidden bonus in this song to sweeten the pot. This is a perfect situation to introduce an appropriate alternate D# (Eb) and A# (Bb) fingering on the clarinet and alto sax respectively. The Coventry Carole is a slow melody making first finger left hand plus first finger right hand easy to learn and play as opposed to Left Hand 1 & 2, Right Hand bottom side key, which is more awkward but absolutely necessary in other songs. This song is a perfect opportunity for students to learn something new in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the holiday excitement and they won’t realize what happened.
When I remind my private students to use a certain alternate fingering they look at me as if I have two heads with a “Well Yaah.” Some have even followed with telling me the rational for the fingering they were using.
Anyway, for the elementary school Christmas Concert, the children of all religions enjoy songs found in The Yankee Collection. Just think about it, they will have fun playing notes and melodies not singing words that may have religious overtones. In the end, if the parents recognize the songs Bobby and Sally are playing, they’ll think you can walk on water for what you accomplished in just 3 months. Enjoy the moment. They come so infrequently. You deserve it!