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Grand Caroling hits right note to rouse holiday spirit downtown

Local choral groups will lead community sing-alongs on the steps of Welsh Auditorium for the first three Fridays in December. The free public event promises to rekindle the spirit when downtown Grand Rapids was the retail hub of the city.
Sweet Adelines singing carols

Sweet Adelines singing carols /Courtesy of Sandra Recker

Underwriting support from:

For more information, visit the Grand Caroling event page.

For more information, visit the Grand Caroling event page.

/Courtesy of Matt Gryczan

Grand Rapids has a new December event free to everyone that may boost the city’s presence as a vibrant metropolitan area through this simple fact: caroling can chase the winter blues away.

For the first three Fridays in December at 6 p.m., four of the area’s top choral groups will lead community sing-alongs of holiday tunes on the steps of the venerable Welsh Auditorium (now named DeVos Performance Hall, with the Welsh facade and lobby still on Lyon by Monroe) in downtown Grand Rapids, a perfect backdrop for what supporters hope will become an annual event for young and old alike.

Participants of the Grand Caroling event will receive free song books at the one hour sing-alongs so they can join in the celebration of song and holiday cheer. For some, the music and visit to the Welsh may conjure up the magic that downtown Grand Rapids held when the Steketee’s, Herpolsheimer’s and Wurzburg’s department stores were bustling with activity. For others, Grand Caroling may become a tradition that celebrates a city that melds a metropolitan feel with small town charm.  

“My husband Dan and I invited friends of ours to go with us last year to Chicago so we could sing at Caroling at Cloud Gate,” says Cindy Lotterman-Schneider, organizer of Grand Caroling and president of San Chez Bistro & Cafe. “We’d been doing it for years, and they loved it. Because they had such a good time, I made up my mind to try it here. For the past couple of years I had asked myself: Why are we driving three hours to sing in someone else’s city when we can do it right here?”

Lotterman-Schneider began with a sidewalk survey of possible downtown landmarks that could capture the right spirit of the event, and she knew immediately when she set her eyes on the Welsh that it was spot on. Completed in 1932 by local construction company Owen-Ames-Kimball, the auditorium’s art deco facade serves as a reminder to many of the times when downtown Grand Rapids was the retail focal point of Kent County.

The site boasts a number of features that supporters say make it a perfect gathering point for parents with children, groups of friends, and couples who want to create a memorable moment with song. The maintained sidewalks and cul de sac location on Lyon Street provide a large and safe open space for public gatherings, and there is ample free parking after 6 p.m. throughout downtown or a short stroll across the scenic Gillette Bridge.    

SMG, manager of the Welsh, agreed to permit Grand Caroling at its site. With help from the Neighborhood Business Alliance and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Lotterman-Schneider assembled a list of the top 12 choral groups in the area and sent out requests-for-performances. The first four groups that responded – the West Michigan Gay Men’s Chorus, the Grand Rapids Sweet Adelines Chorus, the Grand Rapids Women’s Chorus and the Girls Choral Academy – were selected.  Grand Caroling anticipates that it will rotate groups in coming years to showcase the wide range of talents in West Michigan.

“The Sweet Adelines has received support from the community for over 60 years, so this is a way for us to give something back during the holidays,” said the group’s Team Coordinator Sandra Recker. Lori Tennenhouse, founder and artistic director of the Women’s Chorus and executive and artistic director of the Girls Choral Academy, said Grand Caroling is “a great way to bring the community together during the holiday season.  What’s not fun about singing outside on a cold winter night?”

"[We are] excited to be part of this new event that will showcase the holiday charm in our city," says Kaleena Kowalkowski, economic development specialist with Neighborhood Business Alliance. "The weekly events will be a great opportunity for visitors to stroll through area shops and restaurants and create a special new holiday tradition.”

Brian Hedrick, graphic designer and project assistant with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., developed a logo of a musical note with the Welsh in the background that will be used to promote the event.

Allegra Grand Rapids, a locally owned full-service marketing communications provider, is printing the free song books.

“I think everyone wants to participate in caroling in some way,” Lotterman-Schneider says. “It’s a fun way to get out and shake off the winter blues. But we’re shy about singing aloud, and we just don’t go house to house anymore. There’s comfort in numbers here, especially when we’re lead by experienced singers and we know the songs.”

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