Washington, D.C. --
With end-of-year festivities in full swing, thousands of Washington, D.C., area families will once again bundle up for the cold and join the United States Marine Band in a musical tradition whose history now spans half a century. Held at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts this Saturday, Dec. 1 at 4 p.m., the Holiday Sing-A-Long has become a mainstay for generations of holiday concertgoers.
“It has become a treasured family tradition for so many,” said Captain Ryan J. Nowlin, an assistant director of the Marine Band who will be conducting the concert for the fourth time this year. “The sing-a-long nature of the event in conjunction with the chorus creates a welcoming and inspiring environment in which to ring in the holiday season.”
Started in 1968, the event originally consisted of local choirs invited to Wolf Trap founder Catherine Filene Shouse’s farmhouse to sing carols and share in holiday cheer. The following year it grew to include “The President’s Own,” which provided a 45-piece brass ensemble to support the choristers.
By 1972, the concert took its current form; an audience gathered under the newly completed canopy of the Filene Center, and the full Marine Band debuted carol arrangements by then chief arranger Tom Knox. Most of the songs from this concert are still used in the current program.
Today, the band continues to provide the music for traditional holiday carols while the audience and a dozen-or-so local school, church, and community choirs fill the air with song.
Moderating the event are Marine Band vocalists Gunnery Sgt. Sara Sheffield and Master Sgt. Kevin Bennear, the designated “Sing-A-Long Leaders.” Between their bouts of playful on-stage banter, the duo leads everyone in a variety of favorites including “Frosty the Snowman,” The Dreidel Song, and “The First Noel.”
There is even a jingle competition in which guests are invited to bring bells to “Jingle-A-Long” for the performance of “Jingle Bells.” It’s up to the director to decide which side of the house is loudest, so you’ll have to ring your bells hard and jingle until you’re jangled out!
“It is a chance for us to truly have a good time,” Master Sgt. Bennear said. “Laughter and smiles can be seen from our wonderful audience and the Marine Band alike!”
For the band, this is what makes this concert special. At the Holiday Sing-A-Long, the Marine Band will momentarily step away from its ceremonial duties and provide a performance that is meaningful in a different capacity than usual; the event has become a way to perpetuate the inherent joy and warmth of the holidays to the community.
For a brief moment in time, friends, families, neighbors, and strangers halt their busy lives to join in one voice to sing under one roof. Once the candles are extinguished after a lone oboist plays the final notes of “Silent Night,” a sentiment lingers in the air that everyone is headed home with intentions of peace and good will.
The event is free and tickets are not required. Wolf Trap’s Annual Holiday Sing-A-Long will take place at 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1, at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Va. Gates to the Filene Center will open at 3 p.m., and free parking is available. The Metro shuttle bus will not run for this event. Attendees are encouraged to arrive early.