Monday, August 1, 2011

Simply Dickens - A History of a Period Music Vocal Group

Christmas carols:  most of us love 'em,  but there a quite a few who do not.  Mostly because they hear they same dozen tunes repeatedly from before Thanksgiving through Christmas Day itself:.  Last Christmas,  I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas,  Holly Jolly Christmas,  Jingle Bell Rock,  Rudolph,  It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,  All I Want For Christmas Is You,  et al.
Well,  if you tire of  these carols pretty quick,  then you must  meet Simply Dickens - - - -
A wonderful photo (taken by Karen DeCoster Campbell) showing Simply Dickens asking the 1860s Santa Claus what we want for Christmas...
What do you suppose we are asking him to bring us?
And you will hear the carols from the old world,  and even a few from the new world,  though of a couple centuries ago:
All You That Are Good Fellows,  Masters In This Hall,  Riu Riu Chiu,  In The Bleak Midwinter,  The Wexford Carol,  The Boar's Head Carol,  Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,  The Gloucestershire Wassail...and plenty more along these lines.
Yes,  it's my favorite period vocal group:
Wow---an advertisement poster!!
I will state here and now that I love the music and performances of Simply Dickens! Okay, so I am the manager, arranger, and announcer. But, that goes without saying - -
Who's Simply Dickens?? Well, let me tell you!
It is a period vocal group accompanied by guitar that performs the music of another era, mostly Christmas music from the 19th century and before.
Simply Dickens performs for elementary school children - December 2010
Here...tell you what - let me give you a bit of history of the group from its beginnings as a teen duet through the adult singers of today and maybe you'll have a better understanding:
Simply Dickens was formed back in the fall of 2001 when my son, Tom, who was just 13 years old at the time, and a young lady named Kourtney, who was only 14, got together to rehearse Christmas music to sing at the Holly Dickens Festival. The Holly Dickens Festival is held on the streets of Holly, Michigan, every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's here that one can see the sights, sounds, and characters of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" novel come to life. However, it seemed that every vocal group that performed there did the same Christmas songs one hears way too often on the radio and in the shopping malls.
Tom and Kourtney, with some over-bearing persuasion from me, would do something different than everyone else. Their set list consisted of the 'old world' type Christmas music, songs such as "The Gloucestershire Wassail" and "Bring A Torch Jeannette Isabella" - music that was not quite as well known as the more popular "Rudolph" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."
It was only Tommy and Kourtney for the first year for Simply Dickens: 2001

They were quite the hit among the festival go-ers from the get-go, and were asked to return the following year, and, in 2002, they did return to Holly, with a new member in tow.
(By the way, it was Kourtney that came up with the name Simply Dickens, due to the fact that they performed mainly at the Holly Dickens Festival.)

Simply Dickens at the 2002 Holly Dickens Festival

By May of  2003, the threesome had expanded their repertoire to include non-Christmas music of the 19th century and were asked to play at a historical marker dedication ceremony for Eastpointe, Michigan's 1872 schoolhouse. It was only Tom and Kourtney here, but the two of them sounded wonderful as they sang such songs as "The Moustache Song, "Beautiful Dreamer," and "Bobby Shafto."
The attendees really enjoyed their performance.
"Hmmm...," I thought, "interesting..."
At the 1872 school house historical marker dedication in May of 2003

Summertime 2004 saw some member changes - the young lady dropped out, but two more - a guy and a girl - joined.
Simply Dickens 2004:Madrigals and Old English tunes reigned

This new group, with a continued expansion in the sound and repertoire, gave the group the opportunity to sing at festivals, including Erin-Halfway Days in Eastpointe, a world music festival (where they performed for the first time as a quartet and included Renaissance madrigals as part of their set), and a Labor Day festival in Lexington, Michigan.
By Christmas of 2004, Simply Dickens' Christmas music selection had grown to include a German version of "Silent Night," the colonial "All You That Are Good Fellows," and even the Spanish madrigal of "Riu Riu Chiu."
The 2005 version of Simply Dickens

With each passing year, more membership changes occurred, which was always a good and positive thing. Actually, it seemed that with each change the group improved that much more,  like when Kim joined on!
The group even performed on Fox 2 News in December 2007!
The 2007 incarnation of Simply Dickens interviewed by Fanchon Stinger - FOX 2 News Detroit
And they continued to perform at various Christmas gatherings as well as at a few Civil War reenactments. In fact, their collection of 19th century music, like Christmas music, had grown tremendously and includes such numbers as "Faded Coat of Blue," "Shady Grove," "Some Folks Do," and "Just Before the Battle Mother."

And through it all newer members,  Tom, Diana,  and Heidi  joined to replace those that left - not teens, mind you, but adults - ages range from 21 to 50 - and let me tell you, they love to sing.
Simply Dickens 2010 and 2011 - no longer a teen group:~ Tom, Heidi, TC, Diana, Ken, & Kim ~

We now began to put on a regular show that not only includes music but skits and song introductions as well. And the audience response has been overwhelming (the following is from the local Plymouth, Michigan newspaper review from December 2010):  
Once the show began, the crowd listened in rapt attention to the harmonized voices singing both familiar and unknown Christmas carols.
John Fitzgerald and his wife Fay are new Plymouth residents, having only lived in the area for six months. Their favorite song the group sang was "Silent Night," because they like how everybody was able to sing. Fitzgerald said he thought the show was great, surprisingly.
"It was fantastic, I was pleasantly surprised," he said. "I thought it was a barber shop group, I was misinformed. It wasn't until we were sitting in the parking lot and Fay said it was old-fashioned Christmas carols. And I thought, well this is going to be boring. I was really surprised." 

Definitely our most popular skit is "The 12 Days of Christmas," showing the reaction the young lady has as she receives each of the twelve gifts her true love sends her.
It's not pretty.
Life was added to Simply Dickens when actress and singer, Diana, became a member. Here you see Diana's reaction to receiving her gifts from the "12 Days of Christmas" of 11 piper's piping, 10 lords a-leaping, 9 ladies dancing, 8 maids a-milking...she really liked the 5 golden rings, though!
But it's hilarious!
We also do a fun interpretation of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" for kids at the school performances.
We continued to perform throughout the Detroit metro area, including our own headlining shows,  including being contracted to sing at Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village!
Hey---that's where we began!
We had great crowds at our shows at the 2010 Holly Dickens Festival!
By this time, Simply Dickens was becoming well-known not only for our style of music, most of which is almost unheard in this modern day and age, but also to the fact that we perform in period clothing.
No, we don't rehearse in our period clothing!

For a few years now we headlined at an 1872 schoolhouse - perfect for our era.
The 1872 Halfway School House

We enjoy playing the small historical schoolhouses...
Performing in the 1872 schoolhouse in Eastpointe.
My daughter-in-law,  Samm,  joined on and will continue to help out whenever needed,  which I appreciate.

 ...all the way to the "big time" such as Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village, where we performed in front of literally thousands of people every Christmas season.  Yes, here you see an even larger group, for changes were continuous.
Simply Dickens at Greenfield Village's Holiday Nights
December 2011

We also headline at numerous places throughout the metro-Detroit area including Mt. Clemens, Harrison Twp., Northville, Birmingham, Plymouth, Eastpointe, and even in rural Fostoria:
We had a wonderful time, and included children, in Fostoria, Michigan
Here is Simply Dickens from December 2012 in Mt. Clemens at the Simply Dickens Tea.  Yes, we had a 'tea' named after us! How cool is that? Cooler still - - - it sold out way in advance every year!!.
Photo taken at the Crocker House Museum - Dec. 2012

In 2013 we played one of the most unique gigs ever - here we are at Comerica Park in Detroit on July 31, 2013:
We performed for the Detroit Tigers organization's Christmas in July day as part of the festivities. We not only sang in the concourse, but we "toured" the private guest suites to give personal "mini" concerts.
The Tiger's owner,  Mike Ilitch, even gave us a thumbs up!

And the changes continued...
Christmas 2013

By the way, if you live in the metro-Detroit area and would like to hire Simply Dickens to perform at your school, festival, function, or office party - or maybe for your local historical society - I can be reached at
Christmas 2016 at Greenfield Village - welcome Lainey & Heather.

And more recent shots from 2019,  which now includes Isaac as well:
Holly 2019

Holly 2019

Holly 2019

Holly 2019
And to all a good night...

Even in the covid-19 year of 2020 Simply Dickens still performed a few shows,  including to a masked & limited audience at the Plymouth Historical Museum:
For 2020 there were only four singers and myself.  No,  Diana and Tom  (TC)  did not leave the group,  but for varying reasons they took a hiatus for this year.

However,  this year Lainey took her version as Penelope of the 12 Days of Christmas
skit to her own new level!

Diana and Tom may be on hiatus,  but we did find a few replacements.

2020 has sure been a year to remember while we try to forget it.  But our little group had two more performances besides Plymouth.  Here's to hoping for a better 2021!
I gotta feeling  '21 is gonna be a good year....

~   ~   ~   

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