Recording a New Holiday Song Leads to a Novel Learning Experience for Young Alexandria Singers

Video from the recording session of "Once Upon a Time, Santa Had No Elves" has more than 88,000 views on YouTube

The recording team at Bias Studios in Springfield. Bottom row (l-r), Iris Wirtz, Ollie Doyle, Ruby Laine Schmiedebusch, Luca Stivaletti, and Elaine Wirtz. Top row (l-r), accompanist Inna Hampton, narrator Patricia Ehrnman, author Dr. David Charney, and music educator Megan Yingst. (Photo courtesy Liz Chien Doyle)

By Liz Chien Doyle

ALEXANDRIA, VA-One day last November, five Alexandria school children gathered at a local recording studio to sing a new holiday song written by Dr. David Charney, a psychiatrist in Alexandria. The recording of the song, “Once Upon a Time, Santa Had No Elves,” was the culmination of several weeks of rehearsals and one-on-one coaching sessions with their voice and piano teacher Megan Yingst.

In fact, this project had a long trajectory, involving much more than the production of the recording. When the song’s author was in medical school, he reimagined the chorus of a holiday classic, transforming, “Noel! Noel!” into “No elves! No elves!” But life and his busy practice kept him from moving beyond his original idea.

Finally, decades later, Charney sat down and wrote the song in its entirety. Wondering how the elves came about, he imagined that Santa and Mrs. Claus were overwhelmed making all the toys themselves. Then one day, Santa came upon an elf stuck in the snow. After Santa helped the elf, he and Mrs. Claus were later surprised by an army of elves who came to help them.

Dr. David Charney, the author of “Once Upon a Time, Santa Had No Elve.” (Photo courtesy Liz Chien Doyle)

“In one respect, it echoes the classic story of Androcles and the Lion,” Charney said, “You never know how doing the kind thing may circle back to reward you when you need it most.”

The book’s cover (Photo courtesy Liz Chien Doyle

When he finished the song, Charney realized that he had written an entire children’s book. After trying to illustrate the book himself, he worked with an illustrator to create the pictures, created a website at, and brought the book to market as a Kindle e-book and paperback on Amazon.

And what became of the song? That is where Yingst and the children come in. While Charney had come up with a melody to match the lyrics, he approached Yingst to help him produce the recording. She arranged the piano track and sheet music, created demos, and recruited two boys – Luca Stivaletti and Ollie Doyle – and three girls, Ruby Laine Schmiedebusch, and sisters, Elaine and Iris Wirtz, to sing.

In addition to the numerous group rehearsals and individual lessons, Yingst, who also serves as Executive Director of the Alexandria Choral Society, applied her expertise to conduct the children while they recorded their parts during a session at Bias Studios in Springfield.

“When Dr. Charney first approached me for this project, I was completely unaware of what to anticipate,” Yingst recalled. Speaking of the experience, she said,“The recording sessions at Bias Studios were a highlight for me—the staff’s friendliness and accommodation to the choir’s needs made the process smooth and enjoyable.”

Local music educator Megan Yingst working with the singers during one of the rehearsals. (l-r) Megan Yingst, Ruby Laine Schmiedebusch, Ollie Doyle, Iris Wirtz, and Elaine Wirtz (Photo courtesy Liz Chien Doyle)

Asked about this opportunity, Doyle, age 8, said, “I had to do a lot of takes but it was fun. In fact, it was pretty cool and awesome!”

Ollie Doyle during the recording of his solo part. (Phoot courtesy Liz Chien Doyle)

Speaking of her experience, Elaine Wirtz, age 10, recalled, “I felt like a professional singer singing in an actual studio. The story sent a good message about helping others because the spirit of Christmas is about giving to others and taking in their joy as your own present.”

Her sister Iris, age 8, agreed. “It gave me a good shock because I’ve never done it before! My teachers and family are very proud of me because of the hard work [I did] learning the song.”

Iris Wirtz reads the book, “Once Upon a Time, Santa Had No Elves.” (Photo courtesy Liz Chien Doyle)

Discussing the finished mix and master recording, Yingst remarked, “I’m really proud of how the final product turned out.”

A behind-the-scenes video of the recording session available on YouTube has already accumulated over 88,000 views and nearly 6,870 subscribers over the last two weeks.

{SEE ALSO: A Christmas Miracle -Preventing One Evection]

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