Oxford Area High School choral ensemble wins radio choir contest
By Steven Hoffman
Oxford Area High School's choral ensemble captured first place in the high school division of the 2014 MoreFM Christmas Choir Competition. The win earned the high school $5,000 and the school's choral ensemble will have the honor of performing with the Philly Pops during its Christmas spectacular at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Dec. 17.
On Monday afternoon, choral director Julie Wydrzynski led the 24-member choral ensemble through several flawless renditions of “Hark! The Herald Angels...We Have Heard” in the high school auditorium as a television crew from NBC-10 filmed the group's performance for a feature story that will air later this week.
After finishing in third place in the same competition last year, the Oxford choral ensemble's performance of a blend of two traditional holiday favorites earned the group a spot in the semifinals of this year's competition, where online voting determined which of the groups advanced to the finals. After all-day voting on Dec. 10, the Oxford choral ensemble was named a finalist in the competition. Then, on Dec. 11, the group earned the most online votes to finish in first place in the high school division. Oxford edged out Spring-Ford Area High School and Souderton Area High School.
“It's absolutely incredible,” said high school principal Christopher Dormer as he watched the rehearsals. “What a testament to the kids and to the music program—and to the whole community.”
Wydrzynski, who has been with the district for six years, said that she knew that the students' performance on the song was a strong one, but she was still amazed by the response that it generated. Support from the school and the Oxford community was invaluable in helping the choral ensemble win the contest.
“I started noticing all this support from the community,” Wydrzynski explained. “There was just an outpouring of support from the community, the school, and the school district administration. We are so appreciative to all the people who voted.”
The choral ensemble worked on several songs before deciding that “Hark! The Herald Angels...We Have Heard” was the one that they wanted to enter into the competition. With its traditional holiday style, this tune is perfect for radio, and suits Oxford's choral ensemble well.
Choral ensemble member Alanna Amonitti recalled that Wydrzynski told the group, 'It's a tough piece, but I know that you guys can do it' at the time that it was selected.
“I chose this song because it is difficult,” Wydrzynski said. “Every student in the group has an equally important part on this song.”
“We decided that this song showcases our talents the best,” said Braise Alexander, a senior on the choral ensemble. “It's a blend of two songs and it's a capella. There's a lot of timing to it and everybody has to know their parts.”
“It's a song that shows what we can do,” added choral ensemble member Kaleigh Marr. “We all worked really hard on it.”
While some of the students in the choral ensemble went through the experience of finishing in third place last year, this is completely new for some of the other students. The new members rose to the challenge, and the entire group has grown very close during the endless rehearsals leading up to the competition.
Amonitti said that winning the competition and the resulting attention that Oxford's music department has received is a tremendous experience, and one that she is happy to share with the other members of the ensemble.
“Being here with this group has been amazing,” she said.
The school and the community rallied behind the ensemble.
“We couldn't have done this without the Oxford community and our friends and families,” explained Marr.
Alexander agreed. “It's been really cool seeing the school and the community come together over this,” she said
Choral ensemble member Amanda Holmes credited Wydrzynski, as the choral director, with helping the choral ensemble perform at such a high level.
“She's one of the best choral teachers I've ever met,” Holmes said. “She's very professional. But she also makes it fun for us.”
Wydrzynski said that the students worked very hard preparing for the competition, practicing a minimum of three hours a week. Many of the choral ensemble members are involved in several different school activities, so it was a challenge to find time to practice. But all the students made the commitment to put in the work that was necessary.
Wydrzynski said that she is very
thankful for the support that the music department receives. She
noted that some school districts are cutting their music departments,
but Oxford continues to support its music department well.
“This is really a highlight for the music department,” she said. “The students really deserve this.”
Marr said that one of her favorite parts of the experience has been hearing the song being played on the radio at 101.1 MoreFM.
Amonitti said that she is really looking forward to performing at a prestigious venue like the Kimmel Center.
The Oxford community will also get at least one more opportunity to see the prize-winning choral ensemble: the school's annual holiday concert will take place on Sunday, Dec. 21 at 2 p.m.