Middleagemum.com: my problem with singing carols

For as far as I can remember since the kids were small, December means carol concerts and obvs, carol singing and last night we went to youngest teen’s school performance (above).

When they were tiny it was all about the Nativity concert, where mums with girls tried to pretend they didn’t care if their child didn’t get picked to be Mary and the mums with boys prayed their offspring would make it through the concert without hitting their neighbour over the head with the shepherd’s hook or be spotted pushing the donkey off the stage. And that was when we were doing a ‘traditional’ year, things could get pretty surreal when we had a more contemporary interpretation.

As parents we had the most fun at primary school Christmas concerts because we could all start to join in with carol singing.

And here’s my problem, due to years of singing carols at a strict girls boarding school all those years ago for a ferocious and frankly fanatical music teacher, Miss King, I can not sing carols incorrectly. By this I mean pausing for breath at the punctuation marks and NOT at the end of the line or using just two notes for “an-gels’ in chorus of O Come, All Yea Faithfull ‘ instead of three (as in ‘A-an-gels’.)

It’s a NIGHTMARE. In my head I can hear Miss King shouting at my 15 year old self for daring to breath at the end of each line and so I continue to sing the carols properly and get irritated by anyone who doesn’t. I can’t help it, it’s years of Christmas concert indoctrination at school with the terrifying Miss King turning pink and slamming the top of her grand piano indignantly if we ever so much as opened our mouths at the wrong point (eventually, years later we realised she probably got severe PMT).

And we had to know every carol off by heart (including breathing punctuation) and I still remember every word, so now when at teensons carol concerts I can see other parents peering down at their words when verse two is reached, I look like a religious zealot confidently ploughing on while glaring at the mumblers. If we didn’t get our carols pitch-and-word perfect at school, Miss King would strategically plan compulsory ‘extra practise’ on Thursday evenings at 7.30, just as Top Of The Pops was starting and we teenage girls were desperate to watch David Bowie or Sweet pretend to sing (remember the miming?)

I have tried to overcome this, I make myself do yoga breathing to stop myself getting cross when people do it wrong, I’ve tried being like everyone else and singing it without worrying who breathes where but to no avail, I still find myself tensing up as we get to the second verse of Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem and everyone sings ‘Where meek souls will receive him, still’ ……EVERYONE will breath AFTER ‘still’, not correctly after the punctuation mark at ‘him’, thus making a blunder of the last line ‘The dear Christ enters in’.

I know, I know, it’s insane, I should just STOP with the pedantics, but after years of Miss King, it’s nigh on impossible.

Also, since I’ve had children, I can’t get through a carol concert without welling up. What’s that all about? Barely two lines into Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and I can feel myself going….I never used to be like this, Miss King may have made us cry, but it’s not the same thing as being overcome with the sheer wave of weepy Christmas nostalgia that hits you when you hear a carol. It even happens in shops! I think next year I might just be better staying at home. Does anyone else have issues with carols or is it just me?



  • Strange, I had a Miss King for choir practice too and she was just as fanatical. I know all the verses including the 5 verse Latin school song . Not a clue what it’s about though! Did your Miss King drive a 2 seater sports car parked on the square? GG

  • kate says:

    I had no idea of the mental torment going on with those who seem so confident, belting out their carols without looking once at the hymn sheet. will no longer be jealous!
    but I’m with you on the crying. my middle child is in a church choir and sang me every song from his school nativity service while I was in the bath last night. Water level rising rapidly!

  • mary says:

    I cannot hear Little Donkey or The Little Drummer Boy without sobbing like a baby!

  • Amanda says:

    My Miss King, GG, wore Harris Tweed skirts and sensible shoes, and had a picture of her sweetheart -who was lost to the second world war -at her bedside. She was probably in her 40s when she taught us, but seemed very much older. My school was in Devon.
    Kate, perhaps carols are meant to make us mums cry? Ax

  • How very bizarre, My Miss King had all those things but couldn’t have been further from the sea, in Hertford. Perhaps it’s like urban legend and they all had their lost sweethearts on their bedside tables. I’m sure Miss King was about 40 but of course we all thought she was ANCIENT! Happy days. GG

  • Susanna says:

    I spent years in the soprano section in various school choirs… singing the descant to all the best carols. I absolutely LOVED the feeling of my voice soaring over the tune. Now I have to speak to myself very very firmly to ensure that I stick to the tune myself… if control waivers then I find myself the loan descant amongst the crowd – feeling the disapproval at perceived showboating and the shame writ large on teenage faces. Sadly the voice has suffered with age so what, in my mind, is the sublime soaring, in reality is more like the proverbial cat! Happy days indeed x

  • Miss Maudie says:

    Your post made me laugh – and cry this morning – can SO relate to what you are saying. I didn’t have a “MIss King”I at school but think I must have had her twin sister as a singing teacher where I was sent for lessons after school! Incidentally I was in town yesterday and the Salvation Army were there singing carols etc and I was a wreck – I was blaming the menopause until I read your post and the realised I’ve been like this for years!

    Now I am in my late forties and feeling increasingly grumpy about the commercialism of Christmas I still love a carol and depending on my mood and environment can either be completely uplifted by them or reduced to tears! Definitely a mum thing I think x

  • Monix says:

    Once again I think I’m your “cyber sister”, substitute “Miss King” for”Sister Eileen” and it was our carol concert!
    “Silent night” (sung in German) always makes me sob … “Merry Christmas everybody” by Slade makes me 15 again… “Imagine” makes me nauseous.
    M x

  • Caroline says:

    Oh yes, yes. I am completely with you on this one. I even sing with a choir now to keep my breathing punctuation in check. Love it.

    PS I shall be behind Susanna in the queue of your fashion empire. We could do a flash mob of carol singing whilst we’re there…

  • Sarah says:

    I went to the most hilarious nativity play during which all the wise men needed a wee just before their big scene, the donkey starting beating up the sheep and the Angel Gabriel was VERY CROSS and refused to speak to Mary. It went some way towards making up for the huge numbers of Christmas Play costumes I’ve been called on to make over the years.

  • amanda says:

    So, clearly when Jane and I open our emporium we will have to have a flash mob carol choir each Christmas…with tissues to hand….Ax

  • sally says:

    In my head I always hear, and so I have to sing out loud, the descant to the third voice of ‘O Come all Ye faithful’ – sadly I can no longer reach the top notes, but it doesn’t stop me trying!

  • Malika says:

    OMG, so I’m not the only one who wells up with every Christmas carol I hear! thank you thank you! (I work in Parliament and walked past a Sally Army service going on in Westminster Hall yesterday and had to fight back tears. Weird). Carols and brass bands. And parties of school children visiting museums etc. Anyone else?

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