Twenty years ago, Sally Potter, a local singer, banjoist, booking manager for the Ten Pound Fiddle and general manager of the Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op, brought the concept of a large-scale holiday singalong to the Lansing area.
“There are lots of communities all around the country that do holiday sings, whether they’re secular in nature or whether churches do it,” Potter said. “You know, there are big “Messiah” sings, where people sing Handel’s entire “Messiah” score. They’ll have open sings where they’ll have soloists during the performance, but for a lot of those choral songs, they’ll invite hundreds of people in the audience to sing along. There’s always been singing at Christmas.”
Potter said the event ended up being a “natural fit” in the area.
“People’s hearts are just filled with the music that they have helped to create. And how powerful is that? I mean, without their voice, there is no sound,” she said. “So, everybody comes and sings. And it’s powerful. And it’s warm. And it’s just a wonderful feeling that people get, and a lot of people use it to kick off their holiday season with new and old friends.”
This year’s Holiday Sing will take place 7:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 8) at University United Methodist Church in East Lansing. Pianist Doug Austin, hammered dulcimer player Doug Berch and poets Ruelaine Stokes and Cruz Villarreal will accompany Potter, who will serve as song leader.
“Since the beginning, I’ve just asked different people to either lead songs or add instruments,” Potter said. “We’ve had a variety of panel players. The last few years, Doug Austin has been the piano player. He’s a semi-retired corporate real estate attorney, but he also writes musicals for fun. He also plays the piano incredibly well, and he just adds so much. Berch is a nationally known hammered dulcimer player. He actually makes lap dulcimers, but he plays hammered dulcimer really well. Ruelaine Stokes is the president of the Lansing Poetry Club. Every year, she adds a couple of spoken word pieces. We also have a special guest, Cruz Villarreal, who wrote an essay that was published in City Pulse last year. He’s going to read it as part of a little subsection about home and traditions.”
Potter said that despite the lineup of performers, the event itself is all about community members coming together to perform holiday music as a collective.
“Every year, there are different guests that help lead songs or do spoken-word things. But in reality, when people come, we hand them a little booklet. We give you all the words, and then we just start the song,” she said. “People can sing anything they want. If they know harmony lines, they can sing that, they can sing the melody, they can sing an octave above or an octave below, it doesn’t matter. Because the sound, especially with the piano and the hammered dulcimer, is so overwhelming and so powerful. People just have a grand time.”
Potter tries to choose songs about a wide range of subject matter, not just religious holidays, so that people of all backgrounds can enjoy the event.
“It’s not very religion-based. It’s more focused on the general holiday season. I mean, there are some songs with Christ in them. But there are also lots of songs about snow and the solstice and peace and the new year,” she said. “It’s different every year. But the idea is that the same people come, and they are in a lovely, safe space.”
Beyond being a fun holiday-themed event for the community, the Holiday Sing is also a fundraiser for the Ten Pound Fiddle.
“Every year, the Ten Pound Fiddle produces between 45 and 50 events. This event will raise a little over $1,000, maybe more, for the Ten Pound Fiddle, and it just goes into supporting the work that the Fiddle does,” Potter said. She mentioned that the Fiddle gives around $60,000, or about 60% of its revenue, to artists.
“That’s pretty powerful. In order to do this work, it doesn’t hurt to make a little money on a Holiday Sing fundraiser,” she said.
According to Potter, the event hasn’t changed much in the 20 years it’s been running, beyond venue and themes.
“When we first started, we were at the Unitarian Church, and then the Ten Pound Fiddle took over and moved it to the Michigan State University Community Music School. We did several, I think six or eight, holiday sings over there,” Potter said. “And then right during COVID, the Ten Pound Fiddle moved all its concerts to University United Methodist Church. There are three venues in the church. The Holiday Sing is going to be in the sanctuary, which is absolutely gorgeous.”
Overall, Potter said throughout her years of organizing the Holiday Sing, her favorite part has been sharing music with others.
“I get to lead over half the songs. I have the best seat in the house! I have hundreds of people singing, and I get to hear all those parts. And so do they, but I just like sharing music, and through the years, people have shared wonderful songs,” she said. “There’s a huge pool of music that we get to choose from. Different cultures, different themes, different ideas. We choose 20 songs, and everybody sings on at least 16 or 17. It’s almost too simple. You show up, we give you the lyrics. There are no rules to what part you have to sing. Even if you don’t know all the songs, you’re going to know at least 15 or 16.”
Friday, Dec. 8
University United Methodist Church
1120 S. Harrison Road, East Lansing
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