(Photos by Jill Bock, Staff)
SIKESTON -- When longtime school and community music director Judy Henry was asked to participate in an organized carolers group, she jumped at the chance.
"Since I am a music director, I'm always working on a performance, but I seldom get the chance to perform myself," said Henry.
Little did Henry and the seven other singers who agreed to become the "Sikeston Dickens Group" realize, their spreading of holiday cheer would rub off on themselves as well.
Henry was first approached to join the Christmas caroling group by Dr. John Leible of Sikeston.
"This fall was really the first time we did anything. I just asked some people if they would be interested in singing this kind of venue. I had seen it done in the city malls and things like that, and, of course, the whole ida was to keep it small," Leible said.
The group is comprised of eight members: Leible, Henry, Jeanne Anne Sullivan, Wanda Rankin, Ann Jones, Connie Thompson, Garry Warner and Larry Bohannon, all of Sikeston.
Not knowing if they would have any singing engagements, the group decided to practice any way, Leible said.
"If we just sang around my piano, that would be fine," Leible said.
Beginning in October, the group met weekly at Leible's home to practice.
"We rehearsed weekly, and I don't think we missed at all. That's how much we enjoyed it," Henry said.
The group also learned they sounded pretty good together, both Henry and Leible said.
"One of the unknowns is how you will sound together, and fortunately, we had a pretty good blend. It just helped get everybody in more of a Christmas spirit," Leible said.
Wanda Rankin said joining the group seem liked something that would help spread the Christmas spirit and was something fun that would enable her to sing for the sake of singing.
The voices, for some reason, just seemed to blend perfectly, Rankin said.
"We got the opportunity to know new people and found out we all had that love of Christmas singing," Henry noted. "We wanted to share that love of singing."
Throughout this month the group was invited to sing at the park in downtown Sikeston, the Sikeston Depot Museum and a New Madrid Christmas event. They also caroled for hospitalized individuals last weekend.
Dressed in clothing reminiscent of the Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," the group sings more traditional, 19th century English carols, Henry said. They sang four-part harmony and a cappella, and sometimes Leible would accompany with his 12-string guitar.
"We did find out we didn't sing and walk very well. We're more apt to stand in place and sing," Henry said.
Some borrowed their costumes and others made them. The women wore long skirts, capes and bonnets while the men donned long coats, scarves and top hots.
Response from those listening was positive, Henry said.
"It's always smiles, and lots of times, they'd sing with us," Henry said.
Making someone smile is one of the best gifts one can give, Henry said.
"We spend so much time wrapping things up and putting a bow on it," Henry said. "Sharing music to people especially those who don't expect it is one of the nicest things you can do -- and it's a nice gift to give yourself."
Before the group disbanded for the year, they gathered one last time for a sit-down dinner with their spouses in tow.
"Before we could leave, we all had to sing again. We sang more Christmas songs, and our spouses just sat there, looking at us," Henry laughed.
As for next year, group members aren't ruling anything out.
"It remains to be seen what else we'll do. If somebody wants us, we'll see how it works out. We don't know," Leible said.
Henry said caroling wasn't meant to be a social outing for the group, but it became that, too, as well as a seasonal outing.
"We just got so comfortable with each other," Rankin said. "... It was a time of gathering and committing to singing for no other reason than to sing and give a gift to the community. It was magic."