'Choralpalooza' strikes a chord with West Jefferson Hills students

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

These diminutive dynamos bounced and hopped around the hallways, as they struggled to contain their excitement and nervous energy.

“I hope we don't forget,” said Eliana Morano, 11, a fifth-grader at Jefferson Elementary. “That always goes through my mind — just don't forget.”

Students in the West Jefferson Hills School District prepared for every scenario, such as: “What if I forget the words, then everyone else forgets, too?”

Getting every note just right and making sure they remembered their “arms in the air” and “hand shakes” was especially important for the fourth- and fifth-graders this time because they didn't want to let down the “big kids” that were performing alongside.

Standing several feet taller than the elementary tykes, students from Pleasant Hills Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School were just as nervous about their performances.

“It's a healthy nervous, though. If you're not scared to approach something, then why are you doing it?” asked Gill Hall Elementary choir teacher Megan Curley.

The backstage jitters quickly diminished at the stroke of a chord and the voices of more than 360 students from all five West Jefferson Hills schools came together in unison.

“When we're all singing, it's so powerful,” Eliana said.

The first West Jefferson Hills “Choralpalooza,” which integrated performances from choirs at all five district schools, was held at Thomas Jefferson High School last week.

The event was meant to show the importance of music in education, said middle and high school choir director Julie Lucci. The program also was strived to show younger generations of West Jefferson Hills performers the opportunities they have in music as they progress through the district.

Music teachers in the district got the idea for “Choralpalooza” at this year's Pennsylvania Music Educators Association conference, held at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in November, Lucci said.

The district never had attempted to hold a concert of this magnitude before, Lucci said.

“People said, ‘You're crazy.' ‘What are you thinking?' ‘They're never going to fit.' I said, ‘I'll make them fit,'” Lucci said. “It was a good, healthy way for elementary, middle and high school students to interact.”

The more than 700 parents, family and friends who filled the 700-seat auditorium, cried, laughed and sang along as the students performed songs such as Simon and Garfunkel's “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” such as Maroon 5's “Payphone” and The Script's “Hall of Fame.”

Students called the final performance of the night — where more than 360 of them crowded on the Thomas Jefferson stage and surrounding bleachers to sing a rendition of Bob Dylan's “Blowin' in the Wind” and L. Thomas' “America” — “outrageous” and “exciting,” and a learning experience.

“You work as a team to make one voice,” said Morgan Yurkovich, 12, a seventh-grader at Pleasant Hills Middle School. “We work as one, but there's hundreds of us.”

Having students from grades four to 12 perform together united the district and provided younger students with a preview of what musical opportunities are in store for them in the future, said Thomas Jefferson High School senior Lauren Snyder, 18.

“They see older kids that have stuck with it. There's a mix of guys and girls and everyone is still having fun with this,” she said.

Fourth- and fifth-graders from all three elementary schools in West Jefferson Hills enjoyed working alongside one another for a common goal, said Connie Testa, music department chair in West Jefferson Hills and a music teacher at Jefferson Elementary for 23 years.

“For the high school kids, this was special. But they might forget about it after a few weeks. For the elementary kids, that's something they'll remember for the rest of their lives. They're so impressionable at this age,” Testa said.

At Thomas Jefferson, freshmen and seniors also learned to become one.

“If the seniors are nice to you and talk to you, it makes you feel more a part of the school,” said freshman Lucia Bonacchi, 15.

That sentiment was echoed at every grade level.

“It's the power of music,” Curley said. “It can bring a community together.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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