The Phantom Nativity Choir: Singing Holiday Cheer for Over Three Decades

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by Amanda Bloom

From The Mercurial’s Christmas archives, published on 12/25/09:

Despite last weekend’s winter weather, the extended McCann family set out to carol at Fairfield’s Carolton Convalescent Hospital and to perform their 20th annual benefit concert at Christ Church in Easton. In fact, the weather has never deterred the group, known as The Phantom Nativity Choir, from making their musical rounds. 2009 is estimated to be their 33rd year of caroling.

The Phantom Nativity Choir began with the voices of the eight McCann siblings, born to Amelia and Donald McCann in Bridgeport. Music was always being played in their Gregory Street home, and since Donald was the choirmaster at St. James Church in Stratford, each sibling was destined to become a member of the church choir.

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by Amanda Bloom

 


 

From The Mercurial’s Christmas archives, published on 12/25/09:

DESPITE LAST WEEKEND”S WINTER WEATHER, the extended McCann family set out to carol at Fairfield’s Carolton Convalescent Hospital and to perform their 20th annual benefit concert at Christ Church in Easton. In fact, the weather has never deterred the group, known as The Phantom Nativity Choir, from making their musical rounds. 2009 is estimated to be their 33rd year of caroling.

The Phantom Nativity Choir began with the voices of the eight McCann siblings, born to Amelia and Donald McCann in Bridgeport. Music was always being played in their Gregory Street home, and since Donald was the choirmaster at St. James Church in Stratford, each sibling was destined to become a member of the church choir.

One year, the church asked the McCanns to create a carol program for Midnight Mass, and one of the siblings(“Maybe Martha,” said David McCann in a phone interview, of his sister) came up with the idea of caroling to friends and family who lived with elderly people. Those first years of caroling saw the McCanns piling into their cars and making the rounds, until one year when Michael McCann talked the mayor of Bridgeport into letting the family use a small school bus, complete with a driver. It was Peter McCann who came up with their choir name.

“He said we were kind of paramilitary,” David recalled. “We would strike at night, when least expected.”

The McCann siblings began to carol at convalescent homes and hospitals when their mother and great aunt moved to the Carolton in Fairfield. Over the years, the choir added St. Joseph’s Manor in Trumbull and the Veteran’s Hospital in West Haven to their destinations. Nowadays, the caroling circuit takes one Saturday afternoon and most of the evening to complete, and this year’s excursion was attended by three generations of the McCann family.

“Every year we pull out our binders, and with very little rehearsal, start singing,” David said. The carol program is about 40 minutes long and is comprised of songs either written or arranged by Donald. Some of the sheet music is still marked with his handwriting.

The McCann’s first benefit concert took place on a Sunday at Easton’s Congregational Church in 1989 when the church asked the multi-McCanned folk band, the Jackson Pike Skifflers, to perform. It occurred to Will Tressler, banjoist in the Skifflers and husband of fellow Skiffler and McCann sibling Katie, to create a “Christmas concert supreme” by incorporating The Phantom Nativity Choir. Soon enough, so many people began to attend the concert that they had to move to a bigger venue.

“In order to accommodate the audience and avoid the fire marshal, we moved down the road to Christ Church,” Tressler said in a phone interview.

Proceeds from the concert go to two causes: The Bridgeport Rescue Mission, which provides shelter and food for the homeless and faith-based programs for those struggling with addictions, and the Mary McCann Bradicich Memorial Scholarship fund, which provides monetary support for a Bridgeport high school senior pursuing bilingual studies. The scholarship was set up in honor of Mary, one of the eight siblings, when she was killed in a car accident in 1982.

This year’s concert included Appalachian, Irish and Scottish music, lesser known carols and celebratory winter solstice songs originating from Northern Europe. Katie also conducted a children’s choir comprised of the third McCann generation this year. The singers ranged in age from two to twelve and performed “Great Big Star” and “Mary, What Are You Going to Name That Pretty Little Baby?” Tressler acknowledged that they choose to perform somewhat esoteric songs. “You won’t hear Frosty or Rudolph,” he said.

The McCann family, their children and their children’s children certainly don’t need to enlist the familiarity of the snowman or the reindeer to get their message across. Their traditions, their charity and their gift of music are the Christmas spirit incarnate.

If you would like to donate to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission or the Mary McCann Bradicich Memorial Scholarship fund, send a check to the following addresses:

The Mary McCann Bradicich Scholarship Fund
c/o Katie McCann Tressler
146 Bibbins Road
Easton, CT 06612

The Bridgeport Rescue Mission
c/o Christ Church
59 Church Road
Easton, CT 06612

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