What would you do for tuppence? (that's about 3 U.S. cents). Not a lot I imagine. Forty years ago, that was a nice bit of pocket-money and it was my first wage as a singer. At 6 years of age, I was dared to sing a solo, O Little Town of Bethlehem at a Christmas party in front of hundreds of children. I did it and earned my prize. That got me hooked! Now, when I hear that carol I get tearful. For me, it's about the joy and innocence which once was and now is gone.
Christmas is a time for bringing people together, seeing friends you haven't seen in ages and fitting everything in before it's too late. But why sing? It can certainly make us feel whole, whether we're any good at it or not. Research suggests that as singing makes us feel good, the knock-on effects on other areas of our lives is drastically improved*. And there's something to be said for the festive season giving us permission to let go. After all, we have a myriad of other indulgencies, so why not sing?
There's no doubt that this time of year offers more opportunities to stretch our vocal prowess whether singing in church, joining in a few impromptu carols at the local train station or yodeling along to Julie Andrews on Christmas Day after a few glasses of port. In fact, it's almost impossible to avoid the strains of festive songs whether we're in the supermarket, on public transport or at a street corner.
During December, there are considerably more concerts taking place than any other time of year.
I see many people taking extra singing lessons because they want to be note perfect or they're going to surprise the boss at the dreaded office bash with a rendition of The Pogues Fairytale of New York, and hope the P45 isn't sitting on their desk the next morning!
One all time favourite of mine is White Christmas by the prolific songwriter Irving Berlin, written for his first wife (who sadly died on their honeymoon). There's really something quite melancholic when you hear it, almost a sense of something that's lost rather than gained. Didn't he churn out some fantastic and heartfelt songs? Incidentally, this one is the biggest-selling Christmas song of all time; it's estimated to have sold about 350 million copies on record and sheet music. I'd be surprised if it doesn't get you singing along.
If you prefer something more traditional, then there are countless carols. Our tradition here in the United Kingdom goes back to the Middle Ages when beggars, seeking food, money, or drink, would wander the streets singing holiday songs. Some carols are drinking songs also known as 'Wassailing songs' where a hot bowl of mulled cider would be shared by all festive carolers keeping them warm. Others have a typical dance-like character making them ideal for outdoors. A fine example is As Joseph was a-Walking. Of all other European countries, Germany has a strong tradition of carols stemming from a folk element which then went to the Church, such as Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht which reflects the tradition of cradle-rocking. It's quite divine and is loved by both children and grannies! Isn't this what's fantastic about music? It breaks down any barriers and is available to everyone.
I'd like to leave you with a question: which songs do you favour and why? We're spoilt for choice really and whatever you choose, give yourself permission to let the singer in you come out. It's a form of therapy and boy do we need it during this inescapable festive frenzy.
For more information on Helen Astrid www.corporatesingingworkshops.com
*Related articles: Singing for Health, an exploration of the issues (2002, University of Newcastle upon Tyne. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/09654280210434228