Although the repertoire for Christmas musicals is vast, Mary Lynn Luke still faces a song-selection challenge each year.
As she has for the past eight years, Luke will lead the Oxford Singing Children and the Oxford Youth Singers in the Arts Association in Newton County's presentation of "Christmas in Covington."
The concerts are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 3 at the First United Methodist Church in Covington, located just off the downtown Square.
"The format is the same," said Luke, who through the years has helmed hundreds of musical troupes, ranging from high school and community theatre groups to ensembles like the OSC (singers from fourth through seventh grade) and the OYS (from eighth to 12th grade), both of whom feature around 55 voices from throughout the east metro area.
"You never want to sing the exact same songs every year. And we try to add a few twists. This year, the Singing Children will sing a version of 'Deck the Halls' combined with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. I do rotate the music around, but you still have to repeat some things," said Luke.
One selection that never changes, however, is the final song.
"I always end the concert with 'Do You Hear What I Hear?'" said Luke. "It's a tradition with me -- I did it when I taught high school and I've always done it with this group. It's just a nice song we all sing together. I don't know how everybody gets up there, but it's like 100 people on the stage and everybody in the audience singing."
In addition to performances by the OSC and OYS (which will include carolers clad in Dickens-era garb serenading patrons as they enter the venue), the concert will showcase songs from Time Flies, a group comprised mostly of singers who previously held membership in OYS.
"We started the young adult group last year at the request of students who had graduated but still wanted an outlet for singing," said Luke. "I said we'd need at least 12 voices to make it work and we usually wind up with 14 or 15.
"Seven or eight of the singers are from the Oxford groups and the rest are friends or people who heard about the group. It's like an extra bonus for our patrons. And it's a fun group to work with because working with 12 voices is a lot different from working with 60. It's an entirely different dynamic."
If You Go
What: "Christmas in Covington"
When: 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 3
Where: First United Methodist Church in Covington, 1113 Conyers St.
Luke said that both groups begin preparing for "Christmas in Covington" in late August, which might seem like an extended period, but she points out that there's only one rehearsal a week (on Thursdays at the First Presbyterian Church of Covington) and there are two Thursdays where no practices are held.
"We're off for fall break and again for Thanksgiving break, so we really only have 10 Thursdays," said Luke, who is the director of music ministries at Crossroads United Methodist Church and teaches part-time at Eastminster School, both in Conyers.
"And on Thursday, we're singing at the lighting of the Newton County Courthouse (Nov. 17), so that's not really a rehearsal. Since we meet for 90 minutes each week, that's really only 15 hours of rehearsal. But kids that want to work on something like this after school really want to be here."
When Luke's association with the Oxford groups began, the annual Yuletide recitals were held at Oxford's venerable Old Church ("But we've outgrown that," said Luke. "We couldn't fit everybody in and there were plenty of parking issues."). Aside from a couple of stops at Porter Auditorium at Newton High School (where the groups one year sang with country music star John Berry), "Christmas in Covington" has remained at the First Methodist Church.
"It's got the biggest seating area," said Luke. "We've been there for the past six years."
Once the Christmas concerts are over, it will be time to start planning the groups' next production.
"As soon as we finish, we'll put away the caroler costumes, cumberbuns and bow ties and break out our poodle skirts and leather jackets," said Luke, adding that the OSC and the OYS will combine in April to present its spring musical, "Grease."
For more information on "Christmas in Covington," visit www.newtoncountyarts.org.