‘Tis the season to sing loudly | AspenTimes.com

‘Tis the season to sing loudly

Eben Harrell
The Dickens Carolers sing to passersby on the Snowmass Mall Wednesday. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Thursday afternoon on the Snowmass Village Mall, it felt as cold as the North Pole. And for tourists and shoppers browsing past shops and restaurants, it looked a lot like the home of Christmas, too.Santa was in a little hut, sporting a billowing red suit and white beard, with a wee tot on his knee.The Salvation Army representative was stomping his feet and ringing his incessant bell.And, huddled near a small space heater, were seven singers – the Dickens Carolers – trying with all their might, harmony and repertoire to spread a little holiday cheer. In this brisk Christmas marketplace, the carolers had some stiff competition. (Santa’s little helpers were offering little helpings of chocolate chip cookies.) But still the singers attracted a small scattering of listeners.

At Christmas, you sing as hard as you can; there’s no other choice.”Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without singing,” Dickens Caroler Linda Kimmel said. “It’s worth having to stand in the cold.”These singers aren’t your solemn candlelight carolers. The Dickens Carolers – so-called because of their elaborate Victorian costumes – are lively and not afraid to shake their hips around, even if they are a bit restricted in their cloaks and skirts.The group has been performing in and around Aspen for 23 years. They are supposed to be an octet, but all the singers hold other jobs, so coordinating a full ensemble can be difficult. “We have a tennis pro, a music teacher, a dispatcher for the sheriff – it’s quite a diverse group,” founder and director Julie Paxton said. “But I think we all consider one another friends.”

The group meets every year around October to begin rehearsals. Their run of performances lasts from Thanksgiving to the New Year, after which they part until the following year. The group boasts a repertoire of nearly 60 songs, but invariably the same half-dozen favorites are the most requested. “We love some of the slower melodies,” tenor Tom Paxton said. “But usually we get requests for ‘Jingle Bells,’ and ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Frosty.’ We don’t mind though. Everyone has a good time.”The group is in high demand the week before Christmas, often performing for five or six hours nonstop. The venues vary greatly, ranging from street performances in Snowmass to concerts at fancy hotels to private shows for wealthy visitors. The group can spout off quite an A-list of private audiences – Chevy Chase, Jack Nicholson and Diana Ross have hired the singers.And though the carolers can go glamorous, Thursday at Snowmass Village they were literally singing for their soup. Huddled outside The Stew Pot restaurant, a representative of the group was sent in periodically to put in orders. (They may be harmonious in concert, but watch these seven try to put a food order together and all Babble breaks loose.)

The group members may not sing for a living, but they consider themselves strict professionals. They have recorded two CDs together (one recorded with John Denver) and have appeared on numerous national television shows.Why, then, do they stand in the cold for hours singing for a straggling of passing strangers?”When you are singing with friends and you find yourselves together in a beautiful chord and you know you are really touching people, it makes it all worth it,” John Goss said. Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com