Denton Record-Chronicle
Thursday, December 26, 1996

COUPLE'S HOLIDAY HOBBY TURNS INTO YEAR-ROUND BUSINESS
By Kelley Reese


During the weeks before Christmas, the baking starts, the last-minute presents are bought and wrapped, and the houses are cleaned for the arrival of company in homes all over the world.

But for one Denton County couple, the busy side of Christmas is all business.

And now, on the day after Christmas, Craig and Sheri Marshall's lives return to a normal pace.

"Because what we do is specifically a holiday thing, the month of December is really crazy, with the last weeks right before Christmas being super, super busy," Mr. Marshall said. "And even though we've already booked a lot of performances for next year - and people who haven't booked will call right away - the pace of the business slows down considerably once we hit Dec. 26."

The couple's business is a unique idea that started as a seasonal gig nine years ago for a quartet of a cappella singers. It has turned into a thriving enterprise run from the couple's Lewisville home that will gross about $250,000 in 1997.

What they do is appear at Christmas parties dressed in Victorian-era costumes and sing original arrangements of Christmas carols - thus the name of their business: The Living Christmas Card.

This year, The Living Christmas Card added guest artist appearances at symphony Christmas concerts to their roster of performances, Mr. Marshall said. Because those appearances were a tremendous success - the group sold 300 compact discs from two performances - the couple plans to market the group to symphonies all over the nation.

"We really didn't know how the guest performances would turn out, but they went really, really well," Mr. Marshall said. "They went so well that we got a standing ovation in the middle of a performance. So, I think with the right marketing we can definitely have our quartet on the road with various symphonies.

" Right now, the couple dispatches more than 80 singers in quartets to three markets - Dallas - Fort Worth, Houston and Detroit. But in 1997, they plan to expand to Fort Lauderdale, Nashville, Boston, and Stockholm, Sweden, because singers who have been with the company have moved to those areas.

"I am convinced that this business will be successful in any major metropolitan area," Mr. Marshall said. "Any city of decent size anywhere in the world could support it, and since we've done it a few times we know how to jump start the business in a new area and be able to make the investment back in the first year."

And with a new self-produced compact disc being discussed with a major recording label for national distribution, a video, and talk of publishing the company's arrangements, the business has definitely become profitable. But like most entrepreneurs, the couple has re-invested everything they've earned so far back into the fledgling company.

Mrs. Marshall recently left her teaching job to help the business grow and to care for the couple's 21-month-old daughter full time. However, Mr. Marshall is keeping his day job with the University of North Texas' One O'Clock Lab Band as its manager.

"It gets really busy sometimes trying to do both, but I don't ever really think of any of it as work because I love what I do," Mr. Marshall said. "I enjoy making beautiful music and touching people with it, and I enjoy being able to be involved with the uNT jazz program. So I make time.

He added however, that it helps that the university slows down and closes during The Living Christmas Card's busiest month.

"December for us is always very hectic, but we've learned to make family time for the holidays before we get real busy with the performances. And we do our shopping early," Mr. Marshall said. "Then we just plow through the month until it's time to board a plane and go see our relatives for our own celebration."