SIKESTON -- It's Harry Howard's belief in the community working together for the love of music that has made the Community Christmas Carol Sing-Along a success over the past 10 years.
"It's a communal affair with people of all religions and ages," said Howard, organist and coordinator of the Sing-Along. "...The biggest requirement is the love of music and people who love to sing."
Set for 2 p.m. Dec. 18 at St. Paul Episcopal Church, this year's performance is open to singers and instrumentalists of all types. Greeters, readers and ushers are also needed.
The annual event has become a yuletide tradition since Howard organized and directed the first Sing-Along in 2002 as a way to bring the community together to celebrate the season.
"The Sing-Along has always been held the Sunday before Christmas," Howard noted. "That's the legacy I want to leave to my community. We're trying to duplicate what most larger cities do, but I find we have enough talent in Southeast Missouri to produce one here."
Gennice Gipson, a first grade music teacher in Sikeston who has been singing in the event since it began, said she's looking forward to the 10th Sing-Along.
"It' always gets you excited with Christmas cheer," Gipson said.
Like Howard, Gipson encourages anyone interested to participate as rehearsals are scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. Saturday and also Dec. 10 and 17.
"We're trying to get as many people as possible to sing it. You don't have to be a professional singer; you just have to be able to sing or have a desire to sing," Gipson said.
Howard agreed, emphasizing singers can be amateurs. There are trained section leaders, too, he said.
Howard noted that the choir is open to all -- those who live in and outside of Sikeston, adding some from participants have traveled from Charleston, Dexter and Poplar Bluff.
A violinist, flutist, recorder and guitar player have volunteered, and Howard said he would love to have more instrumentalists, especially more strings and some trumpets.
"One big feature this year is intercessory prayers. We're giving the history that tells the meaning behind each song and who wrote it, and mixing that with intercessory prayers for the country," Howard said.
For the second year the Allen Digital Pipe Organ -- the latest in organ technology -- will be used. It provides an authentic sound, according to Howard.
This year's performance will include selections from Handel's "Messiah" and traditional carols.
"We're trying to do a (longer) list of Christmas carols," Howard said, adding they will cover about 11 or 12 hymns compared to the six or so in previous years.
The Christmas Sing-Along has become a yearly ritual for college student Erica Gentry of Dexter and her mother who are longtime singers of the program.
"I'm a music major, and I love Christmas anyways," Gentry said of why she likes to participate in the Sing-Along, which she learned about from a Sikeston friend.
Gentry's personal favorite portion of the program is the final song, "Messiah," she said, because she enjoys everyone singing together.
"Not only is it a chance to perform for the community and give something back, it's a way to celebrate because you get to sing music you know and love," Gentry said.
For the entire story, see the Dec. 1 Standard Democrat or click here to log on to the electronic edition.