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Community Carol Sing is Back

The Unitarian Church of Montpelier, at left, where this year’s Community Carol Sing will be held on Sat., Dec. 9. Photo by Annie Tiberio / annietiberio.com.
Musicians from three Montpelier churches: Christopher McWilliams from Bethany Church, Lynnette Combs from Christ Church, and Donia Prince from the Unitarian Church, have resurrected the popular community carol sing after an absence of several years. They invite all to gather at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Unitarian Church at 130 Main Street in Montpelier. Donations will be accepted for the Community Lunch program.

The annual carol sing continues a tradition with a long history in the capital city. “The most unifying experience of the year,” muses musician Arthur Zorn of Barre, remembering carol sings at the Montpelier Unitarian Church organized by Bob Jackman from 1948 to 1994. Jackman led music there for 46 years and is remembered as a community-minded man of many talents, especially in theater. 

Zorn began attending in 1978 and remembers, “It was not polished. Anything could happen, and that was part of its charm. And for the times, it was ‘high-tech’: Bob set up two carousel slide projectors with 1950s graphics and lyrics carefully yoked to the particular carol. And sometimes, when the slides were out of sequence, you could hear ‘SHOOT’ coming from the back of the church! The format never changed, which was comforting. The same community member read the Christmas story every year, while the children formed a Nativity tableau with the same costumes while the organist played the Pastorale from Handel’s Messiah. The church was always packed and it was a special moment when the lights dimmed and all held lighted candles and sang ‘Silent Night.’”

Zorn, who compares Jackman to a “slow-motion Lawrence Welk” is honored to own the lighted baton with which Jackman conducted the audience those years. “It helps to keep Bob’s spirit in my heart,” said Zorn.

The carol sing became a shared project after Jackman died, rotating the hosting of local churches, which could add their own touches and give each choir a chance to share a song. Zorn recalls actor Amy Papineau, dressed as an angel, standing on the altar at Bethany Church, and enthusiastic carolers at Christ Church, Trinity Methodist, and the Unitarian over the years.

While advertisements and Christmas movies often feature carolers bundled up in scarves and hats, walking around neighborhoods, it is a tradition in decline. Perhaps the ease of recorded music and media technology keeps us inside, focused more on self and family than on spreading cheer to neighbors. The tradition is ancient, celebrating the solstice with a wassail, going house to house sharing a song and dance, and in return enjoying a warm festive beverage. Perhaps the songs are unfamiliar to people without a church background or because some traditional carols are seldom performed in schools. 

Those who enjoy the community carol sing at sunset on Dec. 9 have an opportunity to expand the custom by participating in #GoCarolingDay on Dec. 20.