Friday, December 14, 2001

Sing out in spirit of rejoicing

        Too many Christmas carols at recent sing-alongs have been sung in the key of Blah Humbug.

        During audience-participation segments at the tree-lighting ceremony on Fountain Square, Carolfest at Music Hall and even in church, I've heard too many carolers sound like waiters and waitresses singing “Happy Birthday” in a restaurant to someone they don't know.

        Carols are essentially birthday songs.

        They should sound happy. Especially this year. This nation and this city have suffered in 2001. And both have survived. Time to sing out. Rejoice.

        Maybe some pointers would help. 'Tis the how-to season. Articles regularly appear in mid-December about how to turn a Charlie Brown tree into the perfect pine and how to build a gingerbread house big enough for a family of four. So, here's: How to sing a Christmas carol.

Noted authorities

        My how-to information comes from two men who sing carols from the heart. Charles Fold and the Rev. Wendell W. Freshley.

        Charles leads the Grammy-winning Charles Fold Singers. Now in their 30th year, the singers are Cincinnati's premier gospel group.

        Rev. Freshley has been singing and preaching the gospel since 1947. This week, the United Methodist minister — who officiated at my wedding — led the caroling during the dedication of Indian Hill's manger scene.

        Both men said singing carols requires no instruction manual or special tools.

        “Just bring a rejoicing heart and a heart of love,” said Rev. Freshley. “And remember the Christmas story.”

        A great voice is optional.

        “No one cares if you are in or out of tune,” said Charles Fold. “All that matters is that you enjoy.”

        And, express what the words mean.

        “If you're singing "Joy to the world, the Lord has come,' ” said Rev. Freshley, “be joyful.”

        One volume fits all.

        “Sing loud,” Charles Fold recommended. “It gives you a special warmth.

        “Sing with your head up,” he added. “These are up tunes, remembering that Jesus Christ was born.”

Heavenly peace

        Some carols become memory plays. For Rev. Freshley and Charles Fold, the most memorable is “Silent Night.”

        “That simple hymn with its simple beginnings makes me think back to so many Christmas Eve services,” said Rev. Freshley. “The lights would be turned down. Just the candles would be flickering. And we'd hum "Silent night, holy night.' ”

        As the carol stirs memories, in his mind's eye he looks up and down every pew. He sees children now grown, adults now gone on. And he's reminded of the words from another carol, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

        Charles Fold hears “Silent Night” and remembers his mother. Every Christmas Eve, at 7 a.m., she would go to Findlay Market from her home in Lincoln Heights.

        “She'd buy bags of fruits and nuts and hard candies to give to us kids and anyone visiting our house. She passed seven years ago.

        “Every Christmas Eve morning, I still find myself at Findlay Market buying bags of fruit to give away.”

        Both men said those memories always choke them up when they start to sing “Silent Night.”

        But they always finish the song in a strong voice.

        Because, they believe.


        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail


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