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Christmas Carol Service Ideas & Planning Tips

25th March 2021
Conducting a choir

As we move into spring of 2021, Christmas will be a slipstream thought for many of us. Yet, in the events world planning for Christmas 2021 begins right now!

With Christmas 2020 seeing a rise in virtual Christmas get-togethers, event planners across the UK will be looking to come back with a boom. With the current success of our immunisation program and roadmap out of lockdown, a return to physical events by the end of 2021 may just be possible. What better way to look forward then plan one the most traditional and intimate festive events: the carol service. Christmas carol services are a great option as either stand alone event or as a feature within a wider Christmas event like a dinner or drinks reception. Christmas carols add a classically festive touch which is perfect if you want to create a traditional event. Carol singing also encourages togetherness and creates a pleasant atmosphere. If you are thinking about adding an extra special touch to your planned Christmas event, read on to learn how to organise a carol service:    

Picking the right venue for carols 

 

When considering an indoor venue for a carol service (or an event that will encompass carols), you need to consider two things; sound and space. Acoustically carols work nicely in an environment with natural room reverb as this creates a rich orchestral feel full of atmosphere and ambiance. This can be achieved by using venues that have wide expansive rooms and high ceilings with reflective surfaces. This kind of environment is very much like the one found in our Foyer and Crush Hall which offers a beautiful open space adorned with marble floors and a lofty 20ft ceiling. 

 

You also need to consider how the venue space will accommodate your guests. Things to keep in mind are

  • Floor space - When picking out a venue it’s important to pay attention to the layout and not just capacity. This is because attendees participating in the carols need to be together in one group whilst facing the carol service leader and musicians. Of course this is dependent on how big you plan your carol event but try to pick a venue with enough clear floor space for your guests to sit without obstruction.
  • Chairs and seating  - Make sure that you discuss seating options with your venue before making a booking. Seating is a necessity at carol events as it provides respite from guests being on their feet and singing the entire evening. It’s especially important for elderly guests who may need to take regular breaks or those that prefer to sing whilst sitting.  
  • PA system - When hiring out a venue for a carol service that isn’t a church with an organ, you will need live music to underpin the carols themselves. A common way of providing the music will be through a lead choir and hired keyboard player who will need to plug into a PA system so that their playing is audible to sing along with. Check all venues to see if they offer an inhouse PA since this will save you a lot of time and money getting one elsewhere. At UoL Venues, our exquisite Chancellors Hall comes equipped with a full size Steinson & Sons piano and sound system rental.   
  • Can the venue provide a stage? - Carol services are often led by a conductor who will lead both the musicians and singers (including a choir if you choose to have one). Their job is to set the tempo of each song through visual indication, unifying both musicians and singers whilst signaling dynamic changes in each song. It’s therefore very important that they are visible to all involved. A stage and/or raised platform . Some venues may provide a raised breakable stage so always check with them before booking as this will save you having to get one from another provider.   

Consider an outdoor carol service 

A choir outdoors

Whilst indoor carol services provide a sonically ambient experience, you can always opt for an outdoor carol service setup. This was a particularly popular option for a lot of church groups in 2020 since open air social distancing was possible. The benefits of an outdoor carol service is that the darkness can play into your favor. 

Outdoor lighting props such as fairy lights and electric candles can be used to create a beautiful spectacle that really adds to the atmosphere. Opting for an outdoor carol service also gives you a choice of some great outdoor venues such as UoL’s Malet St Gardens, Woburn and Gordon Square. These venues are nestled within some of Bloomsbury’s finest Georgian surroundings which adds a touch of Dickensian Christmas sparkle. Things to consider when choosing the outdoor option are: 

  • Stress appropriate clothing - The English winter can vary from freezing cold, to rainy or even mild at times. Regardless, you should stress to your guests to wrap up warm with appropriate clothing such as hats, gloves, scarfs and extra layers. 
  • Consider outdoor heaters - As an optional call you might want to consider hiring outdoor air heaters depending on the weather. This can be a nice way to add extra warmth for your guests. 
  • Offer hot drinks - Hot drinks should be a standard offer and will not only keep people warm, but also loosen their vocal chords ready for singing. You should set up a manned refreshments table with thermos growlers full of hot chocolate, mulled wine, coffee, tea etc which can be served safely. At UoL Venues, our inhouse catering team can take care of beverage supply and service so that you don’t have to worry. 
  • Consider awnings or canopies - A covered canopy is a good insurance policy against the unpredictability of the British weather. This is especially important for protecting the outdoor PA and musical instruments if rain or drizzle occurs. At University of London Venues, we actually reserve an indoor alternative space for all outdoor events which can be used if weather conditions turn on the day. 

What are the best christmas carols to include?

The choice of carols you include for the event is really up to you but there are some traditional classics that should always be included such as “Silent Night”, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, “Away In A Manger”, “Deck The Halls” and “Joy to the World”. You can also take a more modern approach to carol choices by including contemporary classics like “Let It Snow”, “Winter Wonderland”, and “Santas Coming To Town”. Combining both will give the event a fun blend between traditional and contemporary which offers something for everyone. 

Christmas carol lyrics sheets or digital PDFs?

Communicating the lyrics of your carols is key. Although carols are considered classics, most people are not familiar with the exact words and will need individual prompt sheets. At the signup/ticketing stage be sure to provide an email PDF program stating the carol list and the words laid out in a clear readable format. Attendees can then choose whether to print their sheet off prior to the event or read the carol lyrics off their phone. Digital song sheets have the advantage of reducing paper usage which is environmentally beneficial. As one of London’s key sustainable events venues, we would strongly encourage this approach. Digital song sheets also work well for outdoor carol events since mobile devices provide lighting which makes it easier to read song sheets in the dark. 

Organising xmas carol music: The Musicians  

Man playing piano

As mentioned, live musicians will form the backbone of the service and make the experience special for all involved. Even though carol backing tracks are available, this does not capture the organic feeling and intensity provided by good musicians. Realistically, your attendees will not be impressed by singing along to a pre-recorded track and would probably leave the event en mass.

Hiring a choir  

Hiring a professional choir or vocal group to lead the service is very important. These professionally trained singers will be able to sing in perfect pitch and skillfully layer different harmonies together to create an angelic chorus. This in turn is very appetising to the ear and will encourage your attendees to sing along. Without a choir the service would be completely at the mercy of initial audience participation which could be a little thin at the start.

 

Finding a vocal group is relatively straightforward and websites like Last Minute Musician contain hundreds of vocal groups suited to ceremony and gospel music. LMM also contains standard rate charges so you can factor these into your budget. Just make sure to confirm with the group that they are happy to sing the chosen carols you have selected and ask to see any videos of past live performances to verify the standard. 

Carol services at University of London Venues

University of London Venues has served as the ultimate destination for Christmas events including dinners, black tie events and Christmas parties. Our selection of indoor venue locations are one of a kind in terms of style, opulence and central London location. For enquiries related to Christmas 2021, contact our events team today or call on +44 (0)20 7862 8127.

 

 

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