Singing Christmas Trees… an Orlando Secret

Every year around the start of December there is an event that is pretty much kept quiet. It’s not that it’s not publicised in the community whatsoever but it is kept pretty much a secret if you happen to come from elsewhere. And, while it’s true that there are folks in the audience who come from several different countries, they really only get to learn and enjoy the “secret” event from friends and family who invite them along.

I am, of course (to locals) talking about the wonderful Singing Christmas Trees performance that First Baptist Church of Orlando entrals us with. This is an event like no other. Believe me.

The performance had run for twenty five years before the church decided to call time on it after the 2005 show. A big mistake. Members of my family treat this as the official start of Christmas and it is certainly one we have all looked forward to. So it was a big relief to us all to learn that the show was back on again this year and last Sunday we all trotted off to see another great show.

The Singing Christmas Trees are an amazing spectacle of lights, music and pageantry presented  to tell the miraculous story of Christmas!  They feature the amazing talent of more than 400 local musicians, dozens of dancers and dramatists, TWO 45-foot tall trees (each holding 125 to 150 people), 250,000 lights and production elements that rival broadway. It takes 2,500 man hours to assemble the trees and they are usually erected in November by weekday volunteers and staff members.

After the structures are set in place, pre-wired panels containing the 250,000 lights are secured and the miles of wires and cables are connected to computers that synchronize the brilliant display to the music. Each tree contains about 60 panels and they all must be independently tested after they are attached to the tree structure. This is performed by plugging each color of each panel into a power source and checking every bulb. If an individual bulb is burned out, it can be replaced, however, there are times when an entire string of lights need to be restrung. It is these meticulous efforts that help to create this spectacular event.

One of the unknown, behind the scenes roles, is the role of the “Tree Rat”. “Tree Rats” play a very important part in the program. Primarily young and gymnastically-energized, these “rats” crawl through the maze of pipes and platforms to help make the choir feel comfortable and safe. They will tap on a choir member’s foot and massage their legs if they want this done to keep blood circulating during the 90 minute performance. Along with a tag pasted on the member’s ankle that indicates the position number and name, they may also choose to tape a tasty piece of candy for the tree rat in appreciation. One year, however, a choir member taped a bag of M&Ms to her leg and when the rat opened the bag, the candy pieces dropped several rows bouncing and pinging off the pipes on the descent. That form of reward was subsequently banned.

The tree “rats” also move the wooden boxes into place before each choir member assumes his or her position. These boxes are custom made and allow the appearance of a more uniform height for each member. For example, if a member is five-foot three, the box would be nine inches tall making the appeared height as six feet.

The trees are loaded from a series of ramps and ladders that cannot be seen by the audience. Some choir members take their positions from the ground level while those in the higher section load from the second level behind the trees. This process is engineered to keep the weight properly distributed filling the lower levels first. The final position, the “star” of the tree, is the last one to assume her post hovering forty-five feet over the Worship Center stage.

The 2008 performance followed a different format than the previous years. The program opened with the children, students, drama and dance segments including the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, a “stomp” version of The Little Drummer Boy. The program also draws audience participation , inviting those in attendance to join the choir singing “Adore Hymn” and “O Come Let Us Adore Him.” So…next year don’t miss it! You’ve been forewarned. The show sold out in record time this year and is sure to do so again next time.

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