SELMA – With twinkling Christmas lights in the background and the soft tinkling of Stephanie Assisi’s piano playing, a hush came over the auditorium of the First Baptist Church Dec. 6 as the lights dimmed. It wasn’t a church choir, but instead Selma High and Abraham Lincoln Middle School Choir students who took the stage.
While it may have been students performing the traditional songs such as “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” and “We Three Kings” and jazzy songs such as “Cool Yule,” the performers say after months of rehearsals it feels more like being with family on stage.
This year’s winter concert was titled “Just Believe” and Director Gina Peckfelder returned from family leave to help direct the show. Long-term substitute Mark Lanford has been directing this fall and Assisi has been named as the permanent director now.
Just before the audience entered and the choirs rehearsed one more time, Peckfelder encouraged them to enjoy this show since, for the seniors especially, it would be among the last performances together.
“Enjoy tonight. This is your concert.” She added that while she’s saddened to miss the fall season with them, they have an outstanding teacher at the helm.
“You’re really lucky to have someone who wants to provide really awesome opportunities for you. Be on her team as well and enjoy your time. I can tell it’s going to be a really great year.”
For those who’ve never performed in a choir before, Peckfelder said the class is unique in that the students must discipline their energy and talents to performing seamlessly and in unity. By doing so, they create a sense of community.
“I love how [choir] touches people like no other subject at school. I feel like music really creates the opportunity to create a well-rounded individual. You learn so much about the students.”
Choir students build confidence they take into other classes so that public speaking becomes less overwhelming. Some go on to major in music at local colleges and take part in National and Regional Honor Choirs.
“[Choir] really starts to open up new avenues for them. It’s a safe place for them and we create a family in the room since they’re working towards one common thing. It’s a bunch of different voices that created that one unified sound and that community.”
Peckfelder said she was eager to hear Langford’s arrangement of “O Come, Emmanuel” that opened the concert.
“It’s really a cool arrangement and I’m excited for that one. I also love doing the traditional piece at the very end of ‘Light a Candle’ and ‘On This Still, Silent Night’ because the kids are very sentimental about it. It means a lot to them every single year. The symbolism of them actually lighting a candle while we sing is something I look forward to. [The concert] does take a lot of coordination but there’s really good soloists tonight.”
This performance would be especially memorable for Anysah Galvan, 17, as it’s her senior year and also her 11th year of singing. She would sing a solo in “O Come, Emmanuel” and when she attempted to describe what the choir experience is like, she said the first word that came to mind was ‘warm.’
“I feel very joyous and warm. It’s like Mr. Lanford said, [singing in the choir] makes you feel very glorious. You’re with everybody and the way you can hear the vibrations and feel the fullness of everybody working together to make this beautiful piece of art.”
Junior Anna Armstrong would sing a duet of “That’s Christmas to Me” with Katarina Quintana for the concert. She too has sung for many years but admits she does get a bit nervous before the performance. Knowing she’s not alone on stage helps her cope with any butterflies, she said.
“What’s nice about singing in a choir is that you have a lot of support. There are 25 to 30 other voices supporting yours so you never feel like you’re in it alone. Even when you’re doing a solo, you have a receptive, warm group of people supporting you so never feel alone.”
Armstrong said even though she’ll have another year of performing with the choir, it is bittersweet realizing the seniors will be graduating soon and then it will be her turn. So while they transition between directors, they still pull together for each other, she said.
“Every one of us has a group at school we can be a part of and that makes things a little less scary. Choir definitely provides a sense of community for people. We’re in a transition year right now, but it’s a little less scary since so many of us are going through the same thing together.”
Her favorite part of the concert would be the very end as the students lined the auditorium and while singing “Light A Candle” would one by one light each other’s candles.
“When you blow at that candle at the end, you just get real emotional,” Armstrong said.
Aran Serimian is only in her second year of choir and said singing with friends is fun “when you’re around people you love.”
She sings in Selma High’s mixed and concert choirs and said the “Believe” song from “The Polar Express” is one of her favorites. She also likes the “Gesu Bambino” song in that night’s program.
“It makes me feel accomplished because we’ve practiced our pieces for so long. We’re finally showcasing them. It’s exhilarating.”
Serimian would sing the Eagles’ version of “Please Come Home for Christmas” and played guitar to accompany her singing. To calm her nerves, she said she looks for friendly faces in the audience.
“I’ll either find my mom and look for her or just look up above everyone else. The concert is fun to watch. The music is great and it’s a live performance and you get to enjoy the Christmas spirit for this and the other songs. It lifts your spirit.”