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Students prepare to show musical skills in annual productions


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Sugar Creek 5th grader Haley Cory practices along with the rest of  her class for their upcoming Christmas hand chime program on Dec. 20. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
Sugar Creek 5th grader Haley Cory practices along with the rest of her class for their upcoming Christmas hand chime program on Dec. 20. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

Moving right along: Mt. Vernon High School freshman Ashley Fritz and the other members of the all-girl Expressions choir rehearse for the school's annual Christmas program on Friday. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
Moving right along: Mt. Vernon High School freshman Ashley Fritz and the other members of the all-girl Expressions choir rehearse for the school's annual Christmas program on Friday. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)


GREENFIELD — All across the county, schoolchildren have been singing about snowflakes and sleigh rides since August.

With temperatures in the 90s, they memorized music about Yule logs and warm fireplaces.

As every music teacher knows, it takes months of practice to prepare students for an annual holiday concert, which is often one of the biggest performances of the year. And that means Santa comes a little early, at least in the choir and band room.

“You’re that kid in November in all your classes. You’re singing all the Christmas songs,” said Ally Stanfield, a sophomore at Mt. Vernon High School.

As a member of Expressions all-girls choir, Ally, 15, has been hard at work on music and choreography for months. Her concert is Friday.

Director Amy Studabaker has been pushing the 110 students especially hard this year, Ally said.

That’s because Studabaker is expecting her first child in February, so the Christmas show is the last concert she’ll put on – at least this year.

While the students will miss Studabaker in the spring, it’s hard to tell who’s more excited about the coming new addition to the choir family. The students have affectionately nicknamed their director’s belly bump “Studababy.”

“They’ve kind of gone through all this stuff with me,” said Studabaker, who married husband Christopher in 2008. “I get excited about their life events, and they get excited about mine, too.”

Because she is taking leave through the end of the school year after the baby is born, Studabaker will miss out on Spring Sing, typically Mt. Vernon’s biggest show of the year. To make up for that, she is working to make the Christmas concert extra special.

“Normally, it’s not this much of a production with dance numbers,” she said. “I’m working ’em hard, cracking the whip.”

Katie McDaniel, who teaches music to students in kindergarten through sixth grade at Sugar Creek Elementary in New Palestine, said Christmastime is such an uplifting time that kids usually respond positively to introducing it early.

“We began in August,” McDaniel said. “They’re always excited. Sometimes, with my fifth-graders, when we start the Christmas musical, they’re like, ‘Really?’ But we have fun with it.”

McDaniel, who is in her fifth year at Sugar Creek, has 90 students in the Visions children’s choir. She also instructs 22 fifth-graders in a hand chime choir.

With that many youngsters to coordinate, planning ahead is key. It makes for months of Christmas music, but that’s OK by the vast majority.

“I was excited for Christmas, like, a couple days before Halloween,” said Josh Weber, 10.

Josh is a member of the hand-chime choir, whose numbers this year include familiar favorites such as “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” and “Good King Wenceslas.”

The hand-chime choir has encountered more challenges than just adjusting to the holiday song lineup early in the year.

“They’re learning just fundamental skills to start off with because when they come audition for me, most times, that’s the first time they’ve ever picked up a hand chime,” McDaniel said.

Learning to read music and remembering when to play with what hand (most students hold two chimes) can be tough.

The workout isn’t just mental, however, said Mallory Barnes, 10.

“If you do it for a long time, it starts to hurt,” she said.

But the students’ enthusiasm for working on Christmas music months before others have their minds on the holiday is contagious, McDaniels said. Plus, there’s always something to work on to keep them all interested in the material.

“I think we continually add depth to the music, try to make it more artistic in nature, and then, some of our more upbeat pieces, I’ve also added some choreography, too,” she said. “I still love it.”

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