Thursday, December 24, 2009

Around South County: Youth choir invited to sing at National Tree

Courtesy photo Jeff Myers, left, and Charles Case rehearse as part of the Voices in Praise choir.

Snow cancels their performance, but the group is still optimistic
By Mitchelle Stephenson, For The Capital

The youth choir at Friendship United Methodist Church, Voices In Praise, recently was invited to participate in festivities in Washington, D.C., at the National Christmas Tree and the Pageant of Peace.

Unfortunately for the 40 teenagers, Mother Nature had other plans in the form of a winter storm that paralyzed the region and caused their performance to be canceled.

Holly Reynolds Lee is the director of the group. She has been conducting the choir for a dozen years. Earlier this year, she saw a call for performers and sent information off to the National Park Service, which manages the Pageant of Peace.

To her surprise and delight, Voices in Praise was notified in the fall that the group was invited to perform on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. at 8 p.m. Dec. 19.

Charles Case, 17, is one of the performers and a member of the choir for about three years. Before joining Voices in Praise, he didn't even know that he had a passion or a talent for singing. But once he was introduced to the group, he was hooked. Now he not only sings with Voices in Praise, but he has also joined most of the vocal and drama programs at his school - Southern High School in Harwood. He even has plans to pursue music in college next year.

Although he has traveled internationally with the choir, the news that they were going to sing at one of the big local events of the holiday season had him pretty excited.

"I thought it was just about the coolest thing in my whole lifetime," Charles said.

But when he heard the forecast last week, he said he was disappointed.

"Stuff like that happens and there is nothing you can do to control it," Charles said.

Another performer, Dylan Fredericks, 17, was also excited about the performance.

"It was a very good opportunity, and we had a good time slot. We were all bummed," Dylan said.

But the students learned shortly after the cancellation of their Saturday performance that another group, one slated to perform on Monday night, had missed its flight. The Park Service was looking for a local group to fill the slot.

Holly said that when she got the call canceling the performance, "my heart sank. This was one of the performances that my singers were really looking forward to."

They already had their 30-minute set list, which included songs like "Carol of the Bells" and "Angels We Have Heard on High." The park service simply moved Voices in Praise to 6 p.m. Dec. 21.

Alas, the area for the performers wasn't cleared of snow by Monday afternoon and the Park Service again canceled all the evening performances.

Mary Brooke Umhau, 15, has been in the choir for three years. "We were singing a really pretty arrangement of 'Shepherd's Pipe Carol' by John Rudder, and it is just a fantastic piece of music. They play it on the radio, so it is fun to be able to say, 'Hey, I sing that one,' " Mary said.

The group has had a number of opportunities to perform outside of the parish. In 2006, they traveled as a group to Ireland, singing in Galway, Dublin and Belfast. They visited a variety of places, including churches, but also children's hospitals and shelters.

Last summer they traveled to Texas and did a weeklong tour.

"We went as a whole choir, and we did a lot of charity work, singing for a lot of different people. We sang at the Alamo, homeless shelters, at a children's hospital to children with terminal illnesses," Charles said.

Holly accepts anyone who comes and wants to participate. The group performs a mix of classics, contemporary and gospel music.

Mary, Charles and Dylan all said that the main reason they like the choir - apart from singing - is the friendships they have forged through their experience.

Fortunately for the parishioners of Friendship United Methodist Church, the Voices in Praise choir will be performing at the Christmas Eve service at 8 p.m. today at the church in Friendship - between Deale and Owings just off Route 2.

They will also be performing a free Epiphany concert for the community on Jan. 10 at Friendship United Methodist. If they get the opportunity to perform at the National Tree in the next few days, information will be posted to their blog:

Students at Lothian Elementary School created and sent 210 greeting cards to troops earlier this month. The children, with the help of their art teacher, Donna Schmitz, and the coordinating efforts of the American Legion, participated as part of the Holiday Greetings for Heroes program.

"The students realize that it is hard to be away from family and friends and wanted to show their gratitude to the soldiers for serving our country," Donna said.

The cards will be distributed to soldiers from Maryland.

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