Updated: Dec 3, 2020
I've always felt that the ability to make and enjoy music is a gift. And for those of us fortunate enough to play or conduct an ensemble, I firmly believe we should share that gift. My students seem to understand this concept more during the traditional "gift-giving" season. So I tried to provide as many opportunities during December for my band students to play for family, friends, and community. No matter what holidays your students celebrate during December, there is something festive here for you!
Literature/Programming Holiday concerts are a great way to feature all levels and sizes of ensembles. We try to utilize our concert and jazz bands, small ensembles, and Steel Drum band ("Jamaican Jingle Jam" and "Rudolph Reggae" are my personal favorites)Featuring a variety of ensembles also cuts down on the amount of material each group has to prepare, as we are already beginning our Concert/Sight-reading and Solo/Ensemble Contest music.) We have a packet of traditional holiday songs that have been arranged as trios. All of our band members, 7th-12th grade receive the same packet every year. (We teach them in 7th grade, so very little rehearsal is needed every year after that). This enables siblings to play together for family over the break and for youth group kids to play at their church events. You can also send small groups to keep your local Salvation Army bell ringers company and it's a great way to promote your program as well.
Props/Events When our HS band marches in a holiday parade, our color guard dress in Santa costumes and do simple "drill" routines with lighted wreaths. We also take our younger students to perform in the pre-parade activities with a traditional community sing-a-long. (Pull out your keys folks, it's audience participation on Jingle Bells)
Holiday concerts are a great recruiting tool if you can visit your elementary campus, or bring them to you for fun (and very loud) sing-a-longs. Bring the elementary principal up on stage to conduct the band and the kids will get a big kick out of it. Our students drape themselves in battery operated lights and wear Santa Hats, etc. I think it's as much fun for the band members than the audience, they feel like rock stars when the little kids scream for them. We've also had silent auctions prior to auditorium performances, the kids/parents donate items for themed baskets and we display them as a holiday shopping opportunity and announce the winners at the end of the concert. Photo ops with Santa and Elves have also been popular.
This year we are considering a Holiday "Drive-Thru" concert to take the place of our traditional parade/concerts. We are currently meeting in-person with the majority of our band members so we are able to rehearse, but this could work for your remote students if your district allowed them to come to school for outdoor performances. Small ensembles will line the sidewalks on our campus, dress festive (maybe even put up a small tree, the kids are thinking creatively) and our audience will stay in their cars with their windows rolled down (to maintain social distancing) and slowly drive down the lane as Holiday music "rings in the air". We're still working out the logistics, any ideas you have would be greatly appreciated as well. We'll probably perform in daylight for safety reasons...the kids are hoping folks with throw $ and candy at them.
Historical/Cultural Significance - For projects have your students research the history/lyrics of traditional songs, or explore different cultures and their holiday traditions, for example Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ōmisoka, Boxing Day and Diwali.
Social/Emotional Learning Each year we transport small ensembles to play for retirement homes and memory care facilities. I particularly enjoy the memory care patients, as "Jingle Bells" and other songs from their childhood can really make them smile. It's very healthy to show MS/HS age students that "Old-timers" are nothing to be afraid of. One year we took a group to a local hospital and played down the hall from the ER. A nurse came down and with tears in her eyes told me that it had been the worst day and that our playing was the only thing that helped her make it through.
Virtual Learning This year we are not having in-person performances so we're creating a montage video, with "Happy Holidays" messages from remote students and the in-person band classes. Just a big video collage of sounds and sights that we can send out to the Retirement/Nursing homes, our school (to be shown as a virtual "pep rally"), families, community and to our elementary schools (to help with recruiting). If you an involve your elementary groups in the actual video, this could be a tremendous opportunity to promote your school music programs in your community. We use original arrangements of traditional songs, if you use published arrangements, please be aware of copyright policies for virtual presentations.
I think it's really important that our students not only learn to love the sound of the band, but the sound of their own instrument. Listening to great musicians will inspire them, give them a better idea of what they should sound like...and what can be accomplished. Check out my December virtual classrooms, click on the various holiday icons (Santa Hat, Tree, presents, etc.) for both solos and ensembles, classical, jazz, pop, rock, etc.). You could use these to make listening assignments and games for your students. (For something extra fun, click on the Elf on the Shelf (left stereo speaker) for a slide show of Alfred, the MS Band Hall elf, to follow along with his daily antics. A new slide is added each day.)
For more performance/project ideas Click Here