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Dickens Carolers Reveal What It Takes To Keep Bringing Holiday Cheer To Busy Kansas Citians

The Dickens Carolers have brought their roving band of holiday cheer to the metro since 1983. With a sprig of holly here and there, each quartet is decked out in costumes that evoke the Victorian era.

November and December are their busiest months: The 45 singers in the group travel for hundreds of performances of Christmas songs. 

Executive director Brad Zimmerman says the Dickens Carolers have sung for a wide range of events over the past three decades.

“We performed for the Duchess of York when she came to visit Kansas City. We did the grand opening of a McDonald’s one time. We sing at 4:30 in the morning for the Bass Pro on Black Friday. So, we do everything all the way up to Christmas Day and sometimes even afterwards,” he says.

At a recent tree-lighting ceremony in Prairie Village, Kansas, one group of carolers warbled their way through their repertoire of 55 songs.

Evan Gamsu has brought his booming bass voice to many such holiday-themed venues for the past 20 years.

“I do this purely for fun. Most of the people I carol with get to sing throughout the year — a lot of music teachers, a lot of local performers," Gamsu says. "I don’t, so this is my one chance each year to get out and sing and perform and I love performing.”

The art of staying warm in winter weather was a skill Barbara Nichols, an alto, learned early in her 28-year tenure.

“If it’s very cold, we’ll go inside venues and sing and then just go store to store and try to avoid being out in the cold too much," she says. "But there are some gigs where you are just out in the cold. I’ve been known to put some hand warmers in my gloves and foot warmers in my boots and long underwear. Do what you have to do.”

For soprano Licia Watson, bringing a bit of unexpected joy to harried shoppers makes the effort worthwhile.

“People can get really busy this time of year,” Watson says. “They just kind of rush by and they realize — whoa, wait a minute, there’s four people there dressed to the nines, singing live music. And they’ll stop and hopefully it gives them a chance to pause for a few minutes and reflect and enjoy the holiday spirit.”

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.

This weekend, you can catch one of two strolling public performance of The Dickens Carolers Friday at The Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, from 4-8 p.m., and on Saturday at Prairie Village Shopping Center, 6920 Mission Rd.in Prairie Village, Kansas, from noon to 3 p.m. 

The Artists In Their Own Words series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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