As director of the Kauai Christmas Choir, Mark Anderson spends much of his time with his back to the audience.
But Sunday, he didn’t need to see the audience to know they were enjoying it.
“I kept seeing faces of the choir and there were tears, and I just lost it,” he said. “I was starting to have tears of my own.”
The choir was moved by the reaction of the crowds at the places they visited, including hospitals, assisted living centers and senior homes. People were singing along, smiling, remembering Christmas mornings of their youth.
“Everybody recognizes a Christmas song,” Anderson said. “When you hear the songs, it just brings it back. People are affected by that.”
“It is a really sweet experience when we’re singing to look out at some of the kupuna and see them mouthing the words along with us and see in their eyes how much they appreciate the songs,” said choir member Steve Backinoff.
The 30-member Kauai Christmas Choir was making its annual island tour. It rented a bus and made about 10 stops from Sunday morning to late afternoon. The choir started in Waimea, then visited Lawai, Puhi, Lihue and Kapaa.
Throughout the hectic schedule, they sang Christmas classics, smiled, laughed, chatted with kupuna before and after performances. They did all they could to spread Christmas cheer.
Anderson was particularly animated and joyous, wearing a red shirt and red and green hat.
Many others also wore festive red outfits and some donned Santa hats. Dustin Stonner was dressed in holidays colors from head to toe, sporting a colorful vest, shirt and pants.
It’s his first year with the choir, and he considers it a chance to give back to the community
“I love it,” he said. “I like Christmas. I get excited about holidays, all of them.”
Merlin Edmonds said the choir’s annual island tour means Christmas is here.
“I don’t think I have Christmas spirit until I do this,” said Edmonds, a five-year member. “It feels like it’s the thing that brings it back, really.”
Edmonds, son of Jim Edmonds, a 25-year member, loves getting together with the choir for rehearsals. The best part, though, is performance day because of the delight and happiness that abounds.
“This is the funnest day because we’re all on the bus,” he said. “It’s really awesome to be out here with everyone and be part of this.”
Jim Edmonds said the little-known group has been practicing about three months for Sunday’s songs. This Friday, the choir will perform at the St. Regis Princeville Hotel, starting at 6:30 p.m. Then it will visit Hanalei, where singers will walk around town, making unannounced stops at shops and restaurants.
He joined the choir for a simple reason.
“They were singing and I wanted to sing,” he said.
Anderson has been the group’s director since it started 30 years ago. He was a teacher at the Waldorf school and they wanted to form a Christmas choir. That first year, in 1988, they had 12 members.
“Everybody enjoyed it so much, we just kept doing it every year,” he said.
So they expanded to care homes, senior living units and hospitals, with hopes of boosting the spirits of kupuna.
“Christmas songs touched all of us when we were kids,” Anderson said.
It is not a faith-based group. “We’re just honoring the tradition of Christmas songs,” he said.
Jonathan Jay joined two months ago when Anderson called and said they need more people in the bass section.
“It’s really exciting to raise my voice and sing in harmony with other people. It feels so good, and to present that to others, it’s real gift,” he said.
Jay likes the way different choir voices blend together.
“It’s a real joy to see what resonates,” he added as the group headed for the bus after wrapping up its set of songs at Wilcox Medical Center. “It’s so beautiful, you can literally feel it in your chest.”