A quartet of Kenai Performers Victorian Carolers sing at a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce party Thursday at Mykel's in Soldotna. From left, they are tenor, Doug McAuliffe, soprano, Lisa Kent, alto, Mary Bailey, and bass, Bob Shrobe.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Though it is the height of cold and flu season, there is one thing that's contagious this time of year, yet doesn't have to be avoided: holiday cheer, and the Kenai Performers Victorian Carolers spread it around as much as they can.
The carolers are wrapping up another season of singing this week and have done their best in the past month to infect as many people with holiday spirit as possible.
So far, no one's complained of the epidemic.
"We've gotten great feedback. People like the atmosphere that the carolers add to a gathering," said the group's musical director, Crista Cady Hippchen. "... If you like Christmas music and you enjoy live carol singing and harmonies, then you should try it."
Cady Hippchen used to be in a professional Christmas caroling group in Seattle and enjoyed the feeling of sharing Christmas cheer with people so much she started the caroling group here three years ago.
"It's endorphins through singing," she said.
"There's just a certain type of person who loves to sing Christmas music and that's who I hope to find every year."
The group already has grown from one quartet to three, each consisting of a soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The soprano carries the melody while the other three singers harmonize, giving the songs a depth that can be hard to come by in small singing groups when female singers tend to outnumber males.
"What I really enjoy about it is it's balanced," said caroler Lisa Kent. "I never hear that, where you can actually hear all four parts evenly balanced."
Cady Hippchen said each year the carolers build upon their repertoire of traditional and contemporary songs as well as secular carols like "Let It Snow" and religious hymns like "Silent Night" so performances can be tailored to the preferences of the audience. The quartets can be hired out for private parties, concerts for individuals, office functions, community events or just about any other occasion. Each offers a different experience in sharing holiday spirit.
Kent's favorite engagement so far this year was Soldotna's Christmas celebration where the group sang at the tree lighting then went in the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center.
"There were lots of people," Kent said. "Santa was there and kids were lined up for him, they had all of us involved this year so it was like a small choir and it was just really fun and seemed like people all over the room were singing along."
Cady Hippchen said one of her favorite venues is home parties.
"They just have a cozy feel to it and people really enjoy you coming into their home and leading carols and maybe singing along with you and sharing some cookies and maybe even some apple cider," she said.
The quartets can be hired to perform for as little as 15 minutes up to hours-long concerts. The proceeds go to the Kenai Performers, which in turn made the Victorian costumes for the carolers, complete with top hats, muffs, bustles, bow ties and bonnets.
"That's one of our goals, to keep polishing our costumes and making them as beautiful and polished as we can," Cady Hippchen said.
It's a refinement that takes effort. A quartet that sang Thursday for a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce party gathered a few minutes before the engagement to finalize their song list and make last-minute costume adjustments, like straightening the men's bow ties and making sure the women could see the music without holding it, since their hands would be ensconced in furry white muffs.
This year's outfits are formal black and white with red accents, an improvement over the bright and busy shawls they wore last year, Kent said.
"They looked like tree skirts," she said. "Actually, they were tree skirts."
The carolers try to create an ambiance that enhances the singing, and costumes are just one way they do that. The group has rehearsed once or twice a week since October at the Peninsula Center Mall, working on more than just the music. They practice acknowledging and interacting with the audience while singing, maneuvering in their costumes, "strolling" in pairs while singing and even do roll playing to practice interacting with audience members.
"It's interesting," said Cady Hippchen. "You would think that caroling wouldn't be as complicated as it is, and it doesn't have to be complicated, but when you're trying to walk in formation, trying to stroll as a pair but also sing every verse to a song and be aware of who's watching you so you can acknowledge them ... there's things you need to be aware of."
Doing all this while trying to sing in four-part harmony is a challenge and can be intimidating to a beginner.
"It was more like being in a small play, like you're on a stage just a few feet away from people the first year," Kent said. " ... All of a sudden you did feel kind of out there because you're singing six feet in front of people and going, 'Oh, I guess I better hit that note.'"
The joy of singing, and singing Christmas carols at that, outweighed any twinges of nerves Kent may have had, though.
"It's fun. It really is," she said. "I mean, who doesn't like to sing Christmas carols if you can carry a tune in a bucket?"
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