The Making Of:

A Singalong Christmas

LSO St Luke's lit with Christmas lights

© Angela Barnes

© Angela Barnes

Our annual Christmas concert is set to look a little different this year. On Sunday 13 December your living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms will become concert halls, where you can watch and join in with all the festive fun of A Singalong Christmas online.

But what goes in to creating a digital Christmas spectacle? Let our Members and staff explain …

What needs to happen behind-the-scenes when recording a concert like 'A Singalong Christmas'?

Tim Davy

Tim Davy

Tim Davy

Tim Davy, Project Manager: A huge amount of detailed planning, head-scratching and teamwork to ensure that all the elements come together. As the project manager my role is to arrange the schedule and orchestra logistics, and work with the creative and filming teams to ensure that we can deliver a beautiful, festive Christmas concert. Particularly at the moment we need to ensure it is all done in a Covid-secure way.

David Jackson, LSO Percussion

David Jackson

David Jackson

David Jackson, LSO Percussion: Half the struggle with percussion playing is organising your 'station' of instruments, especially at the moment when we have to socially distance within the section. Having all you need close by is important for swiftly changing instrument.

When recording multiple takes for audio and visuals, you need to be aware when you're on camera. Often the visual director will give you a heads up … so you know when to look at your best! More often than not, colleagues will try hard to make you laugh at times like that. Fortunately in the middle of Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson, a smile – or even a full on laugh – is not out of place!

Angela Barnes

Angela Barnes

Angela Barnes

Angela Barnes, LSO Horn: Because of the pandemic, we’re having to approach things rather differently this year, but for many of us this means we get to be involved in our first ever LSO Christmas concert (in recent years, our Christmas offerings have tended to involve just the LSC with a small brass ensemble). For recorded performances like this, we'll spend a couple of days rehearsing. Then we have a whole a day where we run and record the entire programme a couple of times, or if there are significant changes and stage moves we record each piece over a couple of sessions. We can also patch any little sections that need fixing along the way.

Joanna Gill

Joanna Gill

Joanna Gill

Joanna Gill, composer & London Symphony Chorus member: For a recording I wanted to make sure that I knew all the music I was singing off by heart, so I could focus on delivering as best a performance as possible. This meant attending rehearsals on Zoom, which was new but delivered brilliantly, and making time to learn the music well ahead of the day.

Sumita Menon

Sumita Menon

Sumita Menon

Sumita Menon, LSO Choral and Schools Project Manager: This production is a big team effort! Logistics, planning and other practical things aside, we spent a lot of time ensuring that the hall looked festive and Christmassy (which felt very strange as it was October!).

How did you get into the festive spirit for the recording?

Joanna: As an avid Christmas music fan it doesn’t take much persuasion for me to get into the festive period early. I must admit following the first rehearsal I couldn’t resist buying a mince pie to get me in the mood!

David: Members brought mince pies into rehearsals … some of us may even be partial to mulled wine in October…

Tim: Mince pies and Christmas jumpers too, of course! And my Christmas playlists on Spotify on my commute.

Angela: I've been eating mince pies since they first appeared in shops in early September (I think, in 2020, anything goes!), so I can’t claim to have marked the occasion in that way. But most years I make sure to invest in another Christmas jumper to add to my collection – what better way to get into the spirit of Christmas than by donning a woolly jumper covered in multicoloured diamanté sparkles?

Sumita: Tim and I met to collect two Christmas trees and lots of decorations on one of the rehearsal days, and a few of us spent hours wrapping ALL the empty boxes we could find to put under the tree, as well as decorating the trees themselves. We also strung fairy lights behind the trees and tinsel on the conductors stand. You can't help but feel festive after so much decorating!

Wrapping boxes in Christmas paper

What was the most memorable part of the day for you?

Tim: There are so many! There’s a certain madness about filming a Christmas concert in October that you just have to embrace! I certainly turned a few heads wheeling a giant glitter ball down Whitecross Street …

David: Seeing LSO St Luke’s festooned with Christmas trees in early October was something surreal. After this year, it didn’t matter where the joy came from!

Angela: The day we recorded this concert was actually the first time I'd ever attached fairy lights to my horn – I'm considering making them a permanent fixture! I was up in the balcony, which meant I was able to appreciate all the fairy lights, the recently installed Christmas tree and various colour washes of light from my lofty vantage point. LSO St Luke's really is a beautiful building and it looks spectacular 'dressed' for Christmas!

Joanna: The whole day felt quite emotional because we hadn't known for months if any singing would be allowed for Christmas. Hearing my carol Sir Christemas sung with 65 fellow singers who were really giving it their all was a particular highlight.

Sumita: The most memorable part for me was sitting in the sound booth when the LSC were recording their pieces. They hadn't sung together for around six months and it felt emotional to hear them perform again: they sound beautiful and I am really proud of them!

LSC perform in Jerwood Hall

Do you have a favourite piece in the programme?

David: Sleigh Ride is always a favourite. I think I’ve played it every year for over 40 years and I always seem to get the sleigh bells to play! I've changed my technique in recent years – I've gone from holding and hitting to vigorous shaking instead. Yes … that’s right … there is technique involved!

Joanna: I really enjoyed singing Joanna Forbes L’EStrange’s Carol of the Crib – for me it encompasses the real meaning of Christmas that Christ has come (and the alto line was particularly enjoyable to sing).

Tim: Babe of Bethlehem – I didn’t know this carol before the recording and I just love the melody, this performance, and being able to hum along with Away in a Manger.

Sumita: All the singalong pieces are great but I also particularly love Babe of Bethlehem. I think that our soloist Abigail really shines in this!

Angela: They’re possibly not my favourite pieces to play, but the pieces I'm most looking forward to watching are the traditional carols towards the end. When I was at school we had a Christmas service in Manchester Cathedral and I absolutely adored singing the descant parts for the carols.

Inside the sound booth

Will you be watching from home on 13 December?

Sumita: Sophia (LSO Choral and Schools Co-ordinator) and I are going to organise a Zoom get-together with our Community Choir beforehand. In ‘normal’ times the Christmas concert is a moment for all of our choirs (LSC, Discovery Youth choirs and LSO Community Choir) to come together, so we wanted to watch it with them!

David: I'll definitely tune in on the 13 December and will chat online in the YouTube live chat – get ready with your questions!

Joanna: I will definitely be tuning in. I have all my family prepped to watch from Scotland as well as friends here in London.

Tim: I’ve always loved Christmas music and carol concerts so I’ll be watching and singing along at home with my wife and son and our dog (he’ll probably be singing too!), enjoying some mince pies in front of the fire. 

Angela: I'll be watching it closer to Christmas (as it's available for 90 days), probably with my family when I go up north for the holidays.

How would you sum up this concert in three words?

Soloist in front of a Christmas tree

© Kevin Leighton

LSC in Jerwood Hall

© Kevin Leighton

Soloist and Orchestra in front of a Christmas tree

© Kevin Leighton

© Kevin Leighton

© Kevin Leighton

© Kevin Leighton

Sumita: Uplifting, festive, joyful.

Angela: Sparkly, festive fun!

Joanna: Elegant, uplifting, joyful.

David: Tempting, tasty, traditional.

Tim: Dazzling singalong spectacular!

Finally, is there anyone you'd like to wish a 'Happy Christmas' this year?

Joanna: I’d love to wish a Happy Christmas to all those musicians out there who have had a tough year with little work. May 2021 be an extra blessing to you all and keep singing!  

Sumita: Sending all my love and Christmas wishes to my friends and family back in Australia! Sadly I won’t be able to make it home to see them this year, but I am thrilled to be able to share this concert with them.

Angela: Happy Christmas to all the freelance musicians who usually work with the Orchestra on a regular basis, but who we sadly haven’t seen much of this autumn with reduced orchestrations due to social distancing. We’ve been lucky in the horn section to see a few familiar friends, but I'm missing dearly seeing the faces of other who usually come in to play. We all hope that before too long we’ll be back to large orchestrations that will require all of your sorely missed good selves.

Tim: To all my extended family that I probably won’t see this year, but also to anyone who loves Christmas and has had a tough year – I hope this concert brings a moment to escape and forget about the worries of 2020 for an hour or so.