Carolers spread holiday cheer while raising funds

The Niskayuna High School Bel Canto Voices sing Christmas carols outside of The Union Cafe in Niskayuna on Monday evening. Pictured center is Kathleen Taylor, 17.The Niskayuna High School Bel Canto Voices sing Christmas carols outside of The Union Cafe in Niskayuna on Monday evening. Pictured center is Kathleen Taylor, 17.
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The Niskayuna High School Bel Canto Voices sing Christmas carols outside of The Union Cafe in Niskayuna on Monday evening. Pictured center is Kathleen Taylor, 17. Photo by Stacey Lauren-Kennedy/Gazette Photographer

By REBECCA ISENHART
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — When Niskayuna residents went to answer their doors the evening of Dec. 15, they almost certainly did not expect Victorian carolers and instrumentalists, cheeks rosy from the cold, hoping to spread cheer and collect funds for their music program in the process.

About 30 musicians from Niskayuna High School split into groups for just over an hour, spreading out throughout the neighborhood near the Niskayuna Co-Op and the high school. They’d knock on a door, ask to sing a carol, then invite a donation to the Niskayuna Friends of Music.

They were ready for almost anything. One woman was a little resistant to the idea of Christmas carols, at first.

“I’m Jewish,” she protested.

The carolers broke into a Hebrew song, “S’Vivon,” without missing a beat. She was delighted.

The Niskayuna High School Bel Canto Voices sing Christmas carols outside of The Union Cafe in Niskayuna on Monday evening.

The Niskayuna High School Bel Canto Voices sing Christmas carols outside of The Union Cafe in Niskayuna on Monday evening. Photo by Stacey Lauren-Kennedy/Gazette Photographer

Down the street, a neighbor opened the door and needed a little less convincing.

Caroler Danielle Rice, a senior, said the moment was her favorite of the night.

“The woman looked really touched, but a lot of people do,” Rice said.

After the carolers had finished their song, the woman told them that the home belonged to her mother, who had died in the year since the previous Christmas. Last year, she recalled, the carolers had made her mother’s holiday season.

“You came back, and now you made mine,” she said, promising she would always remember how much their visit meant to her.

Traditional purpose

The annual caroling event stays true to the tradition of caroling: It’s meant to raise money. Last year, the group, made up of students from the Studio Singers and Bel Canto vocal groups, as well as some instrumentalists, raised more than $1,200 to help defray costs for the district’s music students. They hoped to gather even more donations this year.

The costumed musicians weren’t shy about asking for a little financial contribution. One singer, Zoe Lynds, said her group walked right up to a woman as she got out of her car and broke into song. She didn’t have any cash, but the story in itself was worth the bold introduction.

Alessandra Shellard was one of the instrumentalists who participated, and said anything would’ve been easier than last year, when the temperature hovered around 10 degrees.

“It’s hard staying in tune,” she said, recalling the way the chilly wind hampered her playing.

The Niskayuna High School Bel Canto Voices and instrumentalists perform  outside of The Union Cafe in Niskayuna on Monday evening. Here, Celine Fletcher plays the euponium.

The Niskayuna High School Bel Canto Voices and instrumentalists perform outside of The Union Cafe in Niskayuna on Monday evening. Here, Celine Fletcher plays the euponium. Photo by Stacey Lauren-Kennedy/Gazette Photographer

Elias Assimakopoulos agreed. Last year, he said, the slide on his trombone would periodically freeze in place, knocking the group’s melody out of sync.

“It was difficult because our hands kept getting cold,” he said.

One of his friends had to contend with an icicle that kept forming on his mouthpiece.

But the temperatures were warmer this year, hovering mercifully around 35 degrees. That left senior vocalist Amy Buhrmaster to enjoy the evening, rather than worrying about her skin; last year, she walked away from the event with frostbite on her fingers.

This year’s more manageable temperatures meant little kids could come to the door to listen without getting chilled, too.

“A dad came out and said we finally got the baby to go to sleep,” she said with a smile. “I think it’s so adorable when little kids are in their pajamas.”

The event closed with a full-group performance on the patio at Union Cafe on Upper Union Street. Friends, relatives and even a couple of pets gathered on the sidewalk and spilled into the street, where they sang along with familiar melodies and tossed donations into buckets for the Friends of Music.

Director Christina Pizzino-Catalano assured the gathered audience that, just like their memories of the cheerful evening, contributions to Friends of Music would continue to bring happiness throughout the year by helping students grow as singers and instrumentalists.

“Every penny they make goes back to your students,” she said.

See Gazette Photographer Stacey Lauren-Kennedy’s full gallery here.

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.