by James Garcia Jr.
The young women don their matching long skirts and jackets, put on their bonnets, and thrust their cold hands into hand muffs for warmth. The young men dress in black pants, white tuxedo shirts, black capes and top hats. They wear festive colored shawls and vests respectively, bringing rays of sunshine to the dreary winter. They meet and climb into motor cars and are immediately whisked away to the church, hall or chamber. Once at their destination, they are introduced and a hush quickly falls over the expectant audience as the carolers begin to sing the sounds of the holiday season.
Is this a scene out of something written by Charles Dickens, you ask? Yes, it is; however, it is happening right now in 2010, and it has been happening in and around the Kingsburg area for many years. The Kingsburg High School Jazz Choir conducts performances for the holiday season, billed as The Dickens Carolers. They dress in period clothing from head to toe, and visit churches, schools, civic groups and private parties for the holiday season.
“The Dickens Carolers have been around quite a long time,” says Richard Mynderup, the Kingsburg Choir Director for 12 years. “I inherited the tradition from [former Director] Dale Engstrom who started the group sometime during his time at KHS. I’m not sure of the exact date, but I would guess they’ve been around for at least 20 years. We are a rarity amongst high school choral groups that provide this type of service, and as such, are in demand during this time of year.”
“Jazz choir has been an amazing experience for me and I love every moment,” said choir member Linnea Haworth. “I am so excited about Dickens caroling and can’t wait until we get out there. I look forward to singing my heart out and spreading the joy. Christmas and Jazz Choir are my two favorite things, so I think it goes hand in hand. I really am excited to get into those Dickens caroling costumes.”
If it is the music that makes the group special, the fantastic costumes make the whole package even more spectacular. “The neat thing about all of our costumes is that they have been made by hand by parents or people that just love doing this type of thing,” said Director Mynderup. “The bulk of our costumes we are using now were entirely created by Annette Shiflet, whose daughter Kacey was in the group a few years back. She has done a magnificent job and I am so thankful for her talent and desire to do this.”
“The Dickens Caroler event is typically the favorite amongst the students because they are out quite a bit over a two and half week period singing holiday songs,” continued Mynderup. “So what camaraderie that is already evident is magnified because of their time together. It’s also enjoyable to see the audience’s reaction to their performances.”
Choir member Jacob Pasalakis echoed those remarks. “This is the second year I will be participating in the Dickens Carolers and I have to say I greatly look forward to each and every performance. The wonderful crowds [that] we get to entertain, the costumes are always fun to wear, and above all the music is always so lively and joyful. You can’t help but smile as you sing it.”
Rehearsals for the Dickens Carolers began in mid-October. “We try to take reservations for performances beginning the week after Thanksgiving up to the Christmas break,” stated Mynderup. The Dickens Carolers will perform a 25-30 minute a cappella concert of traditional Christmas carols as well as other holiday favorites, including “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song.” They build their performance with a set of carols that are always in the set. “We tend to add a few new songs each year and then put a few on the shelf to be revisited another time.”
The school asks for a donation of $150.00 for all venues in the Kingsburg and Selma area. For performances outside of that area, they ask for $250.00. The performances are fundraisers for the Jazz Choir, allowing them to go on trips such as the Columbia Vocal Jazz Festival and the Reno Jazz Festival. Although the economy has not been very kind to the Carolers, and they have not had as many performances as in years before, they still ask that people try to book them as soon as possible.
“I think it’s important to have some of the busier parties or even companies [that] we’ll be singing for, book in advance because it not only gives us time to make sure we are free, but it also gives us a chance to improve upon what we’ve begun to practice and allow us the chance to give the best possible performance we can,” said Jacob.
When not performing as the Dickens Carolers, the students are simply the Kingsburg High School Jazz Choir. Along with some of the large festivals, they also perform throughout the year at the annual Fall, Pre-Festival and Spring Concerts and the Evening of Jazz concert that they share with KHS Jazz Band.
When asked about the Dickens Carolers, choir member Fisher Derderian said, “I really look forward to the performances as a Dickens Caroler. I really enjoy the ‘Classical’ Christmas vibe we give off, from the outfits to the music selections, and the always welcoming audiences we get to perform for. I think that we provide a unique, yet entertaining, performance that is fun and enjoyable for any type of an audience.”
“When we go to parties or churches to sing, we really help them get into the Christmas spirit,” shared another choir member Hannah Zentner. “Often times we invite people to sing along with whatever carol we’re singing. It is amazing to see the joy on people’s faces when we start singing their favorite song.”
Jacob added that a lot of reason why they love the Dickens Carolers so much is because it gives them a chance to bond with their friends, meet new people and experience one of the greatest parts of Christmas. “Allowing us to share the gifts God has given us with all those that are willing to listen. It’s an amazing thing to be able to put a smile on the faces of many people and I can’t wait to see who we can share our gifts with this holiday season.”
To contact the Dickens Carolers to schedule a performance for your function or event, call the Kingsburg High School at (559) 897-1430 or send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.