A bit of history behind The Singing Christmas Tree, open to the public this weekend. This is an article written by Lisa Currie, printed in the Shenandoah Valley Herald on December 15, 1999! The Dorothy Lambert mentioned is my Aunt Dot, who’s beating cancer at the moment, yet still singing this year, bringing the inspiration heard from The Tree’s branches to a whole new level.
Shenandoah Valley Herald December 15, 1999
More than 20 years ago, a group of people from St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Woodstock heard about singing Christmas tree in Roanoke. They made the journey to the “Star City” of the south and inspected Helen Robertson’s tree.
It was over 20 feet tall. Built of wood, decorated with 40 yards of green fabric and adorned with pine boughs and white lights, the tree’s ornaments were not festive and seasonal balls but faces of more than 57 people from all over the community.
They would come together with music on their lips – singing Christmas and seasonal songs from around the globe. It was an opportunity for anyone with a love of Christmas music to sing.
It was too good an opportunity for the Woodstock entourage to miss so they brought back the idea with them.
“We studied it, came back and suggested it to Derwood Myers, Jack Sheetz and Howard Lambert,” said Julia Lambert.
“Derwood said he would give it some thought,” she said. Within a few months, the structure was made, filling the chancel from floor to ceiling. Betty Benchoff Page was the first accompanist.
It was a tremendous success and for 19 years the tree was staged. “We missed a few years,” said Lambert.
Each year the structure is stored until the following season when it is reassembled. It takes several hours to erect the huge structure, complete with steps for Dawn Sollenberger to take her place at the top.
Lambert said in 1996 the choir agreed to their final performance.
But Mary Danley, this year’s (1999) director of more than 57 voices, felt the tree and fellowship “mean so much to so many people” she decided to make Dec. 19 the official 20th staging of the Woodstock Singing Christmas Tree. The wheels of motion were started, the voices called from their retirement and the structure taken from storage, dusted and redecorated. Lambert said support for the tree is overwhelming. Barbara Sheetz Johnson of California returned to Woodstock to help with the staging and production. “She came back from California to just to help,” she said.
So for over a month, the voices of all ages – from preschool to senior citizens – have practiced for their community-gift program.
Combined with the songs of ancient are scripture readings, creating a program that is educational as well as entertaining. The one-hour program that begins at 7 p.m. with a candlelight reception afterwards is free and open to the public.
“This is truly our gift to the people,” said Lambert.
The singing Christmas tree “is a wonderful way for the community to bring together people of all ages and denominations to sing the Christmas message.
It is a gift that dedicated musicians give to the community;” said current pastor Rev. Barbara Rhodes. Some voices in the tree, like Dorothy Lambert, have been with the tree since its beginning.
“I certainly have enjoyed singing. It’s really the focal point of Christmas and really puts you in the spirit of the season,” she said. There are many people who have performed with the tree for many years, such as Craig Orndorff and Lambert herself.
The church is located on Main and Spring Street in Woodstock. The community is invited to attend. Please Drive Carefully!
(A short clip from last year)