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Stagg choir welcomes community for a night of songs

gabe hammad photo 3 7 Photo by Kelly White

Palos West fourth-grader Gabe Hammad, 9, of Palos Hills, (center), was excited to be a part of the first Stagg Choir Invitational at Stagg High School in Palos Hills.

By Kelly White

Voices sang through the Palos Hills community at the first Stagg High School Choir Invitational.

“This is a very high energy event,” said Mikayla Hartunian, 15, of Palos Park. “It’s great for everyone involved.”

The occasion was open to the public at no cost and took place at Stagg High School, 8015 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, on Feb. 21. The event gathered together choirs from Palos East Elementary, Palos West Elementary, Palos South Elementary, Conrady Junior High, and Stagg High School for a few hours of singing and fun, concluding with a 30-minute performance.

“What I’m most excited for about is how us high school students can help inspire younger students to keep pursuing music,” said Niki Kowal, 17, of Palos Hills, the choir social media chair at Stagg High School. “A lot of kids can get discouraged and want to quit, but I hope all of the Stagg choir students can help inspire our younger peers and keep them enthused about learning music further in middle, high school and beyond.”

Gia Gracias agreed with her classmate.

“When I attended Palos East, I was not interested in choir, but we also never had an event like this,” said Gracias, 15, of Palos Park. “If we did, I would have really enjoyed it because it gives you the opportunity to see how you get better at each grade level.”

The Invitational provided all five schools with the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie of the choir community while learning how to sing together.

“I love singing and I’m really excited to be a part of this,” said Gabe Hammad, 9, of Palos Hills.

Prior to the concert, a three-hour training session took place featuring Mike Bultman, choir director at Lincoln-Way Central High School and singing clinician, who visited Stagg High School to coach the students. The elementary and junior high schools brought their choirs over to Stagg High School in the afternoon. Then, choir members, totaling 390 singers from all schools, gathered together for group singing exercises in the school’s North Gym.

Bultman rehearsed a short set of songs that the schools had all agreed to perform together. After this, each group had time to rehearse one song they prepared to perform at the invitational.

Songs performed were from Palos East, “Sing a Song this Winter Night” by Mike Wilson; Palos West, “A Folk Song Hand Jive” by Greg Gilpin; Palos South, “This Is Me” by Mac Huff; Conrady Junior High, “Alhamdoulillah by Traditional Middle Eastern,” Laura Hawley and Jacques Prévert; Stagg males, “Tahiti – Tahitian Folk Song” arranged by H. Jarolde Harris II; and Stagg male and female students combined, “From Now On” by Roger Emerson.

Together all participating choirs performed “Harvest Round,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Kirby Shaw, and “Why We Sing” by Greg Gilpin.

“My goal for this event was to focus on the visiting choirs,” said Christopher Betz, Stagg High School choir director. “Stagg Choir is the host for this event, and our guests are the feature. The music for the combined set was chosen to highlight the joy of singing, and to give the younger singers the experience to sing with mature, more developed, and more disciplined voices. Not to mention, singing with nearly 400 people is an extraordinary experience.”

Betz worked alongside Danielle Wetle, a music teacher for Palos District 118 East and West schools for the organization of the Invitational event.

“This year, I got to know her a little bit better and discovered that District 118 used to hold a festival very similar to this each year with tremendous success. However, changes in administration and music teachers caused the festival to fall to the wayside long ago,” Betz said. “We both thought it an excellent idea to resurrect the festival at Stagg, and to hopefully make it another yearly tradition.”

“We were very excited to bring these schools and singers together to create a lasting musical memory,” Wetle said.

Wetle’s students were just as excited as her about the first-time performance.

“It was fun to sing at Stagg with other schools and perform in front of our families,” said Marlee Kalcheim, 9, of Palos Park.

All of the choir members have been rehearsing since school resumed from winter break in January, and students were eager for the opportunity to showcase their talents to their family, friends and classmates.

“I think it was a real unique opportunity to have so many kids of so many different age groups in this large of a quantity all singing together in a combined choir,” said Elora Maniatis, 18, of Palos Hills, and choir president at Stagg High School. “I think it was also a great idea to show the younger kids what the high school choir program is like, because music is a beautiful thing that means so much to so many people. If we’re in any way able to inspire them to stick with choir, then I feel like the night was an accomplishment.”

“This gave me the opportunity to inspire the younger students so they can feel like they can accomplish anything, not just singing,” said Jimmy Lizzio, 17, of Palos Park, and choir vice president at Stagg.

Betz agreed with his students’ positive mentalities.

“My high school students are learning how to be leaders themselves,” Betz said. “I’ve explained to them that these young people who are joining us for the afternoon look up to them like celebrities. They find out more what it’s like to be a leader, and a role model for young people. It is also my hope that this event ignites the joy of singing for everyone involved.”

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