Some tips from Keith Cerny, caroler, conductor and CEO of Sheet Music Plus, on how to make your Christmas caroling experience more meaningful and fun:
Dress to impress. Ensure that your are bundled up for the chilly weather and protect your voice from the cold with a scarf or turtleneck, but be festive, too. Have plenty of Santa hats, reindeer antlers and Rudolph noses on hand for the kids. Sturdy comfortable shoes are also important.
Do you see what I see? If you don't have a red-nosed reindeer, bring flashlights or clip-on reading lights for reading music and navigating sidewalks and stairs. For younger children, wrap a glow-in-the-dark stick around their wrists and have them wear some kind of reflective garment so you can easily find them and they can be seen by any oncoming cars.
Take time to prepare. Twelve months between caroling is a long time to remember all those verses, so be sure to have enough copies to pass around. In addition to the standards, include some humorous songs such as "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and "I Saw Mommy Kissin' Santa Claus." To be sure you don't strain your voice — or the ears of your audience — practicing in advance is recommended, and make sure you warm up on the day before you set out.
Drink and jive. Make sure you are hydrated so you can hit all those high notes. Stick to water while you are singing; save the sugary beverages until after you are done.
It's more than just singing. Caroling is a festive way to connect with neighbors, especially the elderly, so review your neighborhood to ensure you visit those neighbors who will especially appreciate a surprise visit. If you see a "Beware of Dog" sign, keep walking.
Jingle all the way. Bells, cymbals and drum sticks are an easy way to keep your caroling lively and on the beat, while involving those too shy to sing. Also, having everyone sing in unison can get dull quickly. To take things up a notch, select music that includes the various vocal ranges in your group. It's helpful to bring a pitch pipe or tuning fork to make sure that you start in the right key.
Timing is key. Make sure you start caroling after dinnertime as no one likes to have their meal interrupted, but don't start too late, since you don't want to wake younger children.
Keep the party going. A great complement to caroling is a small Christmas performance. Have kids prepare a funny skit, dance or song to share. Encourage local musicians of all ages to bring their instruments of choice to join in. Don't forget the camera.
Bake up a storm. It's not the holidays without festive Christmas cookies and sweets to share with your fellow carolers and your audience.
Song selection. Be sure to include a lot of variety, both traditional carols and popular Christmas songs. Sheet Music Plus offers a handy pocket-size booklet, "Here We Go A Caroling: The Complete Christmas Carolers Resource," for $1.50 that features 31 Christmas favorites, with lyrics and guitar chords, as well as recipes and additional tips. For more information, visit www.sheetmusicplus.com.