By Allie Castro
They are featured in numerous Christmas movies, festively dressed in old-fashioned costumes, spreading harmonious holiday cheer in neighborhoods. Carolers certainly do their part to unite the community by celebrating the season with song. And the Bakersfield community is no exception to this.
During the holidays, several groups that have been singing around the city for years have managed to keep this joyful tradition alive.
Robert Provencio, director of choral and vocal studies at Cal State Bakersfield, has been taking small groups comprised of CSUB Singers to carol to the masses for more than 20 years. This tradition was made possible because of the school's quarter system -- students would wrap-up with school at Thanksgiving, and the new semester would not begin until January. This meant the CSUB Singers missed out on one of the most popular genres amongst choir members -- holiday music.
The solution was to fit in a few extra rehearsals with interested singers, and take to the streets to carol. It didn't hurt, either, when they realized that any funds earned by caroling could go toward the group's extensive touring schedule.
Through the years, small groups of CSUB Singers -- about four per group -- have dressed up in what Provencio calls an "approximation" of the traditional Victorian garb, and headed out to various community events. The carolers are not aiming for historical authenticity, but rather setting the mood for the festivities, he said.
"The fellas go out there in tuxedos and we add gloves, scarves and hats. The women are in hoop skirts and capes with scarfs as well," Provencio said.
The Singers have visited local rotary club meetings, commercial office parties and family gatherings as well as the standing tradition of singing at the Town and Country Village tree lighting ceremony after Thanksgiving. This group carols up to 35 times per season, and the repertoire includes crowd favorites such as their jazzy rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The CSUB Singers also sing classics like "Silent Night," as well as other arrangements with a more sophisticated choral sound.
The CSUB Singers are not alone in their love of Christmas music and caroling. The ladies of Montage -- a group of 22 women comprised mostly of retired Sweet Adeline singers -- didn't want to miss out on their favorite time of the year.
"We didn't have the time to rehearse year-round and go to competition, but we're a group who likes each other and likes to sing," said co-founder Jeanne Cathaway. "We don't charge a fee at all; we just want to get out there and sing."
Like the CSUB carolers, Montage events run the gamut from office Christmas parties and private home parties, to church luncheons and performances in retirement homes. The group boasted more than 20 performances last year.
And though they too like to sing traditional carols in four-part harmonies, they also mix in a little bit of barbershop singing. Now in their third year, they even have a couple of signature pieces, like the church choral-style "Christ is Born" and the jazzy "Jinglebell Jazz."
Aside from their love of singing (holiday music in particular), both groups agree that the best part of caroling is seeing the faces in audience members.
"All the joy comes out of this," Provencio said. "There's just a certain wonder when the group is singing and you see a busy shopper stop and pause to listen to the beautiful music."