Dickens Carolers perform in Vail Saturday | VailDaily.com

Dickens Carolers perform in Vail Saturday

Kathy Heicher
Vail CO, Colorado
Published: Preston Utley | putley@vaildaily.com

VAIL, Colorado ” For 30 years now, the Dickens Carolers have been as intrinsic to this valley’s holiday season as the color red is to Santa’s wardrobe.

Dressed in Victorian costumes, the group performs in venues as varied as Minturn’s outdoor Christmas market, the streets of Vail Village, or at the Methodist Church in Eagle. This is a volunteer gig, involving weekly, two-hour practices starting in October. The performances start in early December, usually with a schedule of two to three outings a week; then, as the holidays approach, gearing up to performances virtually every night.

There are no wages. The singers volunteer their time because they love music, love the season and they enjoy the people they meet.

Jon Gamble of Eagle, a member of the Dickens Carolers from the start, admits that it sometimes takes some self-discipline to get geared up for an outdoor singing gig on a cold winter’s night. Occasionally, staying at home is a tempting option.

“But then you get there, and see the look on the people’s faces. That always makes it special,” says the bass singer, whose entire family, including wife Nancy and their three grown sons, performs with the group.

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Recruitment of singers for the group is generally by word of mouth. In the past recruiting singers has sometimes involved a bit of arm twisting. This year, however, has been a banner season. About 40 singers turned out ” enough to divide the singers into different groups for engagements.

The key to assembling a credible group of carolers is to find the right balance of sopranos, altos, tenor and bass singers.

The Dickens Carolers are an eclectic group that includes engineers, architects, teachers, construction workers and truck drivers. They enjoy their rehearsals as much as they do the performances. The carolers don’t have to be accomplished musicians. They don’t necessarily have to be able to read music. They just have to mesh with the personalities of their fellow singers.

“We do occasionally get people who can’t sing. If they’re fun enough, and pleasant enough, they’re part of the group,” Gamble explains.

Group leaders hand out practice tapes and CDs. Several members of the group practice their singing while driving in their cars.

The intent is to raise the quality of the performance to as high a level as possible without really destroying the fun side of the adventure.

“It is not an easy line to walk between being a professional musician on one side, and just having fun on the other. We try to hit a mark kind of in between,” Gamble notes.

Mary Cunningham of Edwards has been singing Christmas carols with the Dickens group for over 25 years.

“I joined because I wanted to wear the costume,” she confides. She was already a member of Mountain Harmony, an all-women’s signing group, so she had a musical outlet. But those Victorian dresses were alluring. Like several members of the group, she sewed her own costume. Others go to a seamstress. The guys order in their Victorian coats and top hats.

Gamble explains that when the group started, they didn’t have costumes, but rather just decked themselves out in scarfs and hats.

“People didn’t take us very seriously. When we started singing, they thought we were just local drunks,” says Gamble. Then one year, when the group was scheduled to perform for the Crystal Ball fundraiser in Beaver Creek, the organizers rented Victorian costumes.

That made a world of difference. When the costumed group walked into a room, conversations stopped, and people listened. Clearly, this was an organized act that people were eager to hear. The Victorian costumes became a permanent part of the performance.

And how do they keep warm on frosty winter nights in turn-of-the-century clothing?

Long underwear is an absolute necessity ” and not the historically correct red woolen variety. Under those voluminous petticoats, it is not uncommon for the women to be wearing ski pants or sweat pants. Chemical hand warmers can be tucked into gloves.

“We got some high tech stuff going on,” says Gamble.

There’s another way to combat the cold weather.

“The best solution is to pop into a local restaurant, sing, warm up a bit, and perhaps even receive a libation,” he notes.

Despite the hours of practice, the cold, and the demanding schedule, the Dickens Carolers are enthusiastic about their holiday task.

“It is definitely part of our usual Christmas festivity. If we stopped, it just wouldn’t be the same,” says Gamble.

What: Dickens Carolers concert

Where: Vail Chapel

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

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