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North Hills School District to hold first alumni choir reunion

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

The long and celebrated tradition of the North Hills School District's choral program will be on display Oct. 3 and 4 as the district holds its first high school alumni choir reunion and concert.

Members of high school choirs dating from 1958 to the present are encouraged to participate, and the public is invited to the free concert.

“It'll be a time for folks to reconnect and continue the great tradition of choir music at North Hills. We'll honor the history that has brought us to where we are now,” said North Hills choral director and music teacher Shaun Cloonan, 35, of Churchill.

Alumni festivities begin the evening of Oct. 3 and will include a meet-and-greet session, a time to pore over memorabilia, and a tour of the middle school and high school on Oct. 4.

A rehearsal will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 4, with a sit-down dinner afterward.

The concert, to be held at 7 p.m. at North Hills High School, 53 Rochester Road in Ross Township, will include music in a variety of styles and selections from each decade, Cloonan said.

Concert selections were suggested by organizers and alumni who committed early. They picked favorite pieces from their time at North Hills. The goal was to create a varied program that will pay tribute to the choirs of past directors Alice Conner, Frank Cummings, Greg Gyllsdorf, Susan McKinney and Harriet Valliant.

A group of choral alumni who honored longtime choral director Frank Cummings for his 85th birthday in April came up with the idea for an alumni choir reunion. Nearly 30 of his former students, spanning 20 years, prepared a short performance and shared memories with him at the Coraopolis nursing facility where he lives.

“Anyone who sang under him loved him. He took jocks, nerds, grease monkeys and ballerinas and turned them into the best choruses in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Emma Lee Reed Hartle, a 1970 graduate.

Hartle, 62, of Hampton Township, said Cummings' choirs received a multitude of awards during his tenure at the high school from 1963 to 1983. Those same alumni contacted Cloonan to express an interest in a larger, more formal reunion.

Using the school district website, emails, Facebook, phone calls, printed mailers and word of mouth, Cloonan is trying to reach about 1,700 choir alumni who have graduated from the North Hills program since the district's start in 1958.

To date, 50 alumni from as far away as New Mexico have committed to participate.

This year's 26-member North Hills High School Singers ensemble also will take part.

Valliant, 58, of Ross, was North Hills' choral director from 1988 to 2011. As a North Hills student, she sang in the choir under Cummings, and he inspired her to pursue a career in music education after she graduated in 1973.

Valliant is excited to participate in the reunion and concert.

“It'll be nice to see my high school friends again. And it'll be exciting to have my former students come back. A couple of the songs I sang as a student and led as a director will be sung in the upcoming concert,” she said.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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