Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Christmas Choir Concerts


RIA Novosti archive, image #24089 / Tichonov / CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you remember choir concerts at Christmas time? In my case my first memories are of concerts in elementary school. We’d have a Christmas assembly in the auditorium of Washington Elementary and each grade would perform various holiday songs. Those for the younger grades were fairly simple — Jingle Bells, Silent Night, and the like. The older grades would sing more difficult songs and those of us who were younger would just sit in amazement. We’d also do parents assemblies, and no matter how well or poorly you sang, mom and dad would look at you like you were Pavarotti and applaud long and loud.

Then there were junior high concerts. The music was harder, we would sing in parts, and there was one big problem if you were a middle school boy — you never knew what your voice would do, particular with the higher notes. So typically all you heard was the girls who didn’t have such problems, with a low rumble of boys singing the notes they could safely sing.

I suspect it is memories of those experiences that convince many adult men that they cannot sing. I was one of them for a while. I didn’t sing in the high school choirs at Chaney, when music was an elective. But that was where it seemed music really got to be fun. There were acapella groups, and some amazing choral songs where you heard all the parts, and it somehow worked. The guys voices were maturing and you could hear them.

Secretly, I always loved to sing, and when I more deeply embraced my faith, my love of music expanded. The main outlet for singing I had then (during college at Youngstown State) was church choirs and the big deal for church choirs was the infamous CHRISTMAS CANTATA! Christmas cantatas usually retold the Christmas story in song, and often were 20 minutes or more in length. You spent most of the fall rehearsing it. Everybody liked the Christmas cantata. The choir finally got to perform this music we’d worked on, the congregation loved the music, and probably the fact that there was either no sermon or a very short one. Maybe secretly, the minister liked it too, because he got the Sunday off.

Later in life, work and parenting kept me busy and I was on the other side of choir concerts, the proud parent side. We went to concerts my son sang in all the way from pre-school up through Men’s Glee Club concerts at Ohio State. We still have recordings of some of those concerts (useful for embarrassing your adult child!).

During my son’s high school holiday concerts, Mr. Griffin offered parents the chance to come and rehearse of few numbers and sing in a parent’s choir, and once or twice I did this, which awakened my appetite for more. It turns out it also awakened an opportunity for Mr. Griffin. Some adults asked if he would consider forming an adult choir, to provide more opportunities for those who loved singing to do this. Out of this Capriccio Columbus was born, with Mr. Griffin directing. I joined during their third season, ten years ago. This past Sunday, we performed our Christmas concert.

We closed our concert with a new arrangement of a song I first sang at Washington Elementary over fifty years ago, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.

Songwriters: Jill Jackson/Sy Miller; Lyrics © Mccg LLC

I remembered singing this song with youthful idealism fifty years ago, in the Camelot years of the Kennedy presidency. Maybe you remember it as well. Having seen both the best and the worst that humans can do to each other, I sang it very differently. It was more of a prayer that the “peace on earth” that the angels proclaimed that first Christmas would take root in our troubled world.

Peace to you this Christmas! And I hope you get to hear, or sing in, a choir singing some great music this Christmas.


8 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Christmas Choir Concerts

  1. Bob
    Wishing you and your family a glorious holiday!
    Going to YTown (Canfield) to visit our son and enjoy the town and memories the day after XMas.
    Michelle Humans White

  2. Yes, Christmas concerts! My experiences paralleled yours, except for worrying about the voice change. I am an “earth mother ” alto. I had to limit myself to congregatio al singinger during busy working years, but now in retirement I sing with a couple groups. In fact, I am on my out the door to a cantata rehearsal with orchestra for tomorrow’s church services. I feel so blessed to be able to express my faith in this way. And when I sing in church, I feel so connected to fellow singing believers throughout the world. “Lift a joyful noise to the Lord!”

  3. Singing in the Rayen A Capella Choir at Christmas was so special. Alumni were invited forward to sing the Benediction with current choir members when under the direction of Mr Nicheitz and Mr. Miller. It was such a special bonding feeling…
    Bob have a blessed Christmas. So glad you wtitevthis weekly column.

  4. Absolutely love that carol…from Washington.
    Also the beautiful carols we did with Mr McCollum at West Jr Hi. He was an amazing teacher.
    Enjoy your holiday with joy in your song!

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