What Would Christmas Be Without a Singing Tree?
A Carolina Family Tradition for 62 Years
Carolina Voices will raise the curtain for its 62nd Annual Singing Christmas Tree this year on December 10 & 11. The ‘Tree’ will be performed at the beautiful Knight Theater in the cultural center of Charlotte. We hope you’ll join us and experience the ‘Tree’’ like you’ve never seen it before!
How the Tree Started
The Charlotte tradition originated from a meeting in 1952 during the Christmas season of about 75 people who wanted to start a non-professional chorus in Charlotte. In 1954, the Charlotte Choral Society was formed and Alice Berman directed the first “Tree” program in front of the Harry and Bryant funeral home on Providence Road.
“The first ‘Tree’ performance had singers standing in the shape of a Tree and singing holiday songs,” said Sue Wheldon, Executive Director of Carolina Voices. “The idea came from one of our performers who had seen the outdoor Singing Christmas Tree at Belhaven University in Mississippi, first performed in 1933.”
The Choral Society's concert was so well received by the community that the organization had a large ‘Tree’ structure designed and built before the following holiday season. A full production of The Singing Christmas Tree, featuring singers, dancers, puppets and more, opened at the newly built Ovens Auditorium in 1955.
The Towering Tree Structure
When the curtain opens at The Singing Christmas Tree each year there is always an audible “ahhhh” that comes from the audience. Its huge stature in the middle of the stage, with the shimmering lights and the soaring voices of MainStage Choir’s 80+ singers simply commands attention!
The Tree structure stands close to 32 feet tall and will hold up to 100 singers. The original metal structure was replaced in the 2004 with a more flexible and sturdier version for singers to stand on. Volunteer members from Carolina Voices put up the Tree, attach its branches and lights before the performances. Tom Griesmer and John Mitchell, long-time singers, have been overseeing the tree’s construction close to 30 years.
“It takes up about a day and a half to completely assemble and decorate the Tree,” said Tom. “I usually have a crew of 12-15 volunteers helping out. Luckily, taking it down goes much faster. We have a crew of approximately 30-35 volunteers who stay after the last performance to help and it generally takes us about 4 hours to completely dismantle, pack up and load everything on the truck. We are excited to be decorating the Tree with new greenery and lights this year to mark the beginning of a new era.”
If you have ever sang on the Tree, you know that there is nothing quite like it – but, it can also be a little challenging for some singers. The height, for some, can be daunting and as a result some singers request to be placed on the lower level branches. It can also get quite warm on the Tree from the stage lights, so many of the singers opt for shorts with their colorful “Tree” bibs regardless of how cold it is outside. In fact, over the years we’ve even seen a few singers even keel over due to the intense heat. So, smelling salts are always placed strategically throughout the structure – just in case.
Tree’s Angel & St. Nick
At the top of the Tree, you’ll see a beautiful vision in white with wings. That’s our Angel! Perched in the Tree, you’ll also see one person in a Santa hat – that is our St. Nick. These are two very important people to our annual Singing Christmas Tree production. These two singers are honored volunteers from Carolina Voices’ MainStage Choir who have gone “above and beyond” for the organization. This special couple is selected each year by the past Angels and St. Nicks of the organization and announced one month before the show. You can find out more about our 2015 Angel and St. Nick in the show program.
Grey Seal Puppets
For more than 30 years, Drew Allison and The Grey Seal Puppets have been performing on stage with The Singing Christmas Tree. They are truly as much a part of the Tree as the singers! Founder Drew Allison and the award-winning Grey Seal Puppets perform nationwide in theatres such as The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, The Detroit Institute of Art and The Smithsonian Institution’s Discovery Theatre. They also design and build mascot characters for sports teams and corporations. Look for the Grey Seal Puppets to be back for the 61st Tree!
The Singing Christmas Tree for KIDS
If you are looking for a way to introduce your children to the arts, this holiday production is perfect. Starring the Grey Seal Puppets and just one hour in length, it intertwines kids’ holiday music with a fun storyline, puppets, dancing and a visit from Santa, of course. If your children are ages 3 to 10, consider making The Singing Christmas Tree for KIDS a tradition in your family!
Are you ready for the 62nd Tree?
One of Charlotte’s grandest holiday traditions, The Singing Christmas Tree will present a Winter Wonderland theme this year, so expect a glittering performance of music, song, dance, puppetry, and comedy. We are happy to be back in our new home, the Knight Theater, a stunning venue with top-notch acoustics that showcases this show beautifully. Grab your family and friends and join us at the Tree – a fun way to kick-off your holiday season.