Got a bunch of keys on a ring?
Then you can play Christmas carols.
That's the idea when members of the Chattanooga chapter of the American Caroling Co. ask the audience to help sing "Jingle Bells."
"We have them pull out their keys and jingle their 'bells' along with us, just to really get them in the spirit, whether they're feeling it or not," says Scott Willis, director of the caroling company in Chattanooga.
The holiday season can be the gift that keeps on giving, but sometimes it's an unwelcome gift of stress: Buying presents and making sure there's the right gift for the right person. Getting the decorations up and looking pretty. Maybe going to a family gathering that will be attended by a nasty-tempered aunt or a cousin who never stops complaining about his or her life.
A few Christmas carols may help relieve the stress, at least for three minutes a pop.
"Absolutely," agrees Elisabeth Schrock, a member of the Chattanooga American Caroling Co. "I think there is a cathartic release when it comes to singing in general, but also more specifically at Christmastime." Schrock believes that when people hear Christmas carols that they're familiar with and can sing along to, it can have a comforting effect that helps them through tough times.
Finding the fun in Christmas is the goal onboard the Southern Belle Riverboat in December. Every Friday and Saturday night during the month, the boat's halls are decked with the sounds of the holiday. In this case, though, it's the riverboat riders who provide most of the singing.
Santa comes strolling onto the deck where dinner has just been served and roams around, handing out lyric sheets and telling everyone to join in and sing along to create a sense of Christmas camaraderie, says Jordan May, assistant manager of the Southern Belle.
"When Santa enters the deck, it brings a smile to everyone — doesn't matter the age, young and old," she says. "The band starts playing 'Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus lane.' He waves the sheet music, gets on the microphone and says 'Ho Ho Ho! Please join me.' It puts all our passengers in the holiday spirit for sure."
The American Caroling Co., which has franchises in 13 cities, including Nashville, New York City, San Antonio, Texas and Chicago, takes its holiday cheer a step further. Each member dresses in Dickensian clothing to set the mood, with the goal of returning to the days of groups of carolers strolling along the streets, entertaining folks in their homes.
"We've got the hats; we've got the capes and the fancy velvet jackets, so that, too, makes it fun for us and fun for our clientele as well," Willis says.
Like Schrock, he believes that Christmas carols bring joy to all types of people, whether they love the holiday season or dread it.
"We just help them take their minds off the stress of the season," he says.
Although they sing both secular and sacred songs, Schrock says that "Silent Night" is probably the most requested.
"Even if we've just performed it, it seems like we would always get a request to sing it and we would come back around to it," she says.
Singing carols even helps her, says Schrock, who works in the sales department at Astec Industries.
"I have my nine-to-five job, then singing and performing is what I really love," she says. She has degrees in vocal performance and music education from Lee University.
The same is true for Willis, who teaches vocal performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. Members of his caroling group run the gamut from faculty to fun-lovers.
"I have people like myself who have three degrees in music, who do music for a living and just love to sing Christmas carols," he says. "Then I have people who like Christmas carols, and they're just in it for fun."