A Christmas Word Picture in Conducting

Hark how the bells sweet silver bells all seem to say throw cares away
Christmas is here bringing good cheer to young and old, meek and the bold.

As a college freshman I could hardly believe I was actually getting to sing some of the arrangements chosen for our sixteen-voice ensemble and Christmas was fast-approaching! Rehearsals were some of my favorite times of the week. The challenge, the fun we had, the enjoyment, the precision. Robert Sulahian was our director/conductor, and I remember to this day how he drew from us the shortest possible “s” sound in Carol of the Bells.

Oh how they pound raising the sound o’er hill and dale telling their tale…

He could have scolded us. Gotten harsh.

“Shorter! Shorter!! No, the “S” is still too long!”

And we’d have eventually given him what he wanted, albeit begrudgingly.

Not Mr. Sulahian. He leaned back against the railing behind him, folded his hands a moment. (He was a small man. Wiry. Very quick. Dark hair and direct eyes that never left you wondering if he meant business.) I’ve no-doubt enhanced his story in my mind, and that’s all right, I’ve told my version several times to draw the same from choirs I’ve directed.

“When you’re at Grandmother’s house for Christmas,” he said, “and there are so many people in the house they make you sleep in a sleeping bag – on the floor – up in the loft, it’s harder to sleep in in the morning, isn’t it? You can hear her in the kitchen, making breakfast. Setting the table. Getting everything ready. The smell of frying sausages comes up the steep narrow stairs and insists. ‘Get up’. You find your way downstairs and into the kitchen to exchange ‘good morning’s and you can see she has a bowl of batter ready. It’s pancakes this morning. When the time comes to see if the griddle is hot enough, Grandma doesn’t touch the surface, that could burn. She dips her fingertip in a glass of water and flicks a droplet out over the griddle. If it bounces; ts ts ts ts ts . . . t s before it evaporates – it’s ready.

That’s how short I want your s-es.

Hark how the bells sweet silver bells all seem to say throw cares away
Christmas is here bringing good cheer to young and old, meek and the bold…

He never had to tell us again. Sometimes he’d smile and say “pancakes” just to be sure.

Ts ts ts ts ts . . . t s

And we’d all smile a little, especially on those Sunday mornings when we had to leave campus before the cafeteria was open and Food Service sent those h-e-a-v-y sour-dough donut balls along for us to eat on the bus (IF we chose to). Whew~! Pancakes sound really good ’bout now!


If you’re a choir director, don’t be afraid to take the time to tell a story to bring about the result you want. If it works you’ll never again have to remind them of what you want; only a key word or two.

Gayly they ring while people sing songs of good cheer Christmas is here.
Merry merry merry merry Christmas!
Merry merry merry merry Christmas!

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