by Forest Lanciloti and Rohan Sita, Features Reporters
As the last school day before winter break arrives, the hallways are buzzing with excitement. While class officers pass out countless candy grams and Secret Santa exchanges fill the classrooms, all of South’s choirs join in on the action, traveling around the school caroling.
Chorus teacher Ben Youngman said that caroling before winter break is a long-held South tradition.
“As far as I know, it started the very first year in 1960,” he said. “[We] would have all of the choirs singing and then all of the alumni singing and hundreds of people walking through the halls.”
Senior Violet Lanciloti is one of the leaders of Festival Singers, a student-led, community service choir colloquially known as “Festies.” She said that South’s tradition brings the caroling community together.
“The alumni often come back, so it’s nice to see people whom I haven’t seen in a while and also to just go around the school and sing, because I love to sing,” she said.
Festies also travels to senior living facilities to sing for the residents. Freshman David Rosemberg sings in Vocal Ensemble and Festies, and he said he loves the group for both the people and their mission.
“Festies [is made of] people who really choose to devote their time, and we go to places where we think we can help,” he said.
This will be the first time many choirs return to caroling since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. Sarah Hayward, a junior in South’s acapella group Newtones, said that the pandemic made singing difficult.
“COVID kind of turned our world upside down,” she said. “[Newtones] took a lot of precautions like sitting six-feet apart [and] we couldn’t sing inside, which affects the acoustics, so it was harder to hear each other and blend and do that traditional acapella sound. It was still a bunch of fun, but it’s a lot better now.”
Lanciloti said that technical aspects aside, she is just happy to be caroling again.
“COVID made it so that [Festies] didn’t really meet as often, and it also prevented us from singing at senior living facilities for about two years,” she said. “We are very happy to be bringing it back this year.”
In addition to caroling at South, Newtones carols door-to-door and at events like Christmas parties. Hayward said that caroling not only profoundly impacts the singers, but also those who are enjoying the music.
“It just brings some light to your day, especially if you’re having a tough day, or you’re lonely around the holiday season, or you’re not getting to see your loved ones. It’s a really nice reminder that there’s still so much to be happy about,” she said.
Newton isn’t the only place in the Greater Boston community that carols. Leigh Larkin teaches music at Woodland School, an elementary school in Weston, and she has caroled for her whole life. She said that caroling with her mother and their church youth group at a nursing home as a child remains an impactful memory.
“[I remember] seeing my mom after [caroling in] one of the person’s rooms, and she started crying,” she said. “I think [she] was thinking about her future, and how someday she might be in a nursing home, and what a nice thing it is that we’re doing this for people.”
Hayward said that in addition to creating space for memories, caroling can help strengthen relationships.
“I think it brings us closer as a group because sometimes, caroling can be kind of grueling in itself, the way you’re just standing outside in the cold and it’s snowy and gross … but it’s really fun getting to spend the whole day together and making a lot of memories,” she said.
Youngman’s favorite carol is rooted in his childhood and family, he said.
“I’m partial to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,’ because it was one of those songs that my father loved, and my father loved it because his father loved it, and it would make my grandfather cry when we sang it,” he said. “[Good carols] are the ones that evoke memories and family.”
Larkin said that she enjoys sharing the art of caroling with people of all ages.
“Last year, I went to this winter fest and there was a high school group that was caroling, and it was really fun to see them singing,” she said. “My kids loved it, and I think it’s for all ages … It’s fun, and everyone appreciates it.”
Ultimately, caroling is a celebration of winter regardless of culture or religion, freshman Clare Cho, a member of Vocal Ensemble and Festies, said.
“[Caroling is] inclusive because a lot of people just think of Christmas when it comes to winter, but there can also be Hanukkah and [other] winter songs,” she said. “To make a good carol, you have to think about winter spirit in general, and not just a specific part of it.”
photo contributed by Clare Cho
photo contributed by Violet Lanciloti