Holiday cheer

Swing Choir performs ‘Candlelight, Carols and Dessert’ on Thursday

Spanning cultures and centuries, the annual “Candlelight, Carols and Dessert” performance brings together some of the finest arrangements of a cappella holiday music presented by local youth musicians.

Held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 on the stage of the Homer High School Mariner Theatre, the concert includes tea, coffee and dessert. Admission is $10, with tickets available at the Homer Bookstore or at the door. “Candlelight, Carols and Dessert” has run for more than 30 years from when former high school music director Mark Robinson first began teaching in 1989 and created the event.

“It’s been a lovely event for many years and many former students refer to it fondly this time of year,” Robinson wrote in an email. “I appreciate that Kyle has continued it and I know it is meaningful to his students as well.”

Last Thursday at 8 a.m., with music instructor Kyle Schneider, 10 members of the high school swing choir rehearsed for the upcoming performance.

Schneider directs students while playing the piano and tapping a rhythm to follow.

“Try that again, please,” he said. “Bases and sopranos from 30. We have to get right into it! I know the tendency is to want to breathe (here) but there is no breathing.”

He says the lyrics of the songs “’Come Christmas bells’ — that is where you breathe, OK? Now, all parts again.”

Moving on with some chatter, students shuffle lyric sheets and take out the next song, a mixed version of “Jingle Bells.” About 30 seconds into the song, Schneider says, “Let’s stop really quick. There’s some funk going on there and the whole song is not funk.”

“Yes, it is!” a student replies.

“No, the whole song is jazz,” Schneider says. “Let’s take a look at ‘What fun it is to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight.’ Can I have just sopranos? One, two, three, four … one, two, three.”

The sopranos sing their section through twice and Schneider directs again.

“Watch your rhythms! OK, altos, join in there,” he says. “Now, have more confidence in yourselves. I’d rather have you be loud and wrong than quiet and right. Do it again and put some pep in your step.”

Schneider continues his instruction.

“OK, bass. I’m going to play the bass part. Sing it in your head, please.”

Schneider plays the section on the piano about eight times and has the entire group sing it together.

In the next fast-paced piece, “Sleigh Bells,” the choir members show a physical response to the rhythm of the song and use their hands and feet to keep the tempo of the piece. Schneider takes a break in rehearsal to talk with the students and this role of the body to keep rhythm with a song.

One student says, “It helps keep us on time and keep count.”

Another says, “Some of the music is really catchy and I can’t help it.”

At this point in the season, the rehearsals show the final step leading to a performance. The students talk about what happens when they start a piece.

“We start section by section, and some of these pieces the choir has been doing for years,” said one young woman in the alto section.”This is my first year, so it’s new for me, but I can follow what someone else has done from another year.”

Schneider explains a bit more.

“That tends to be the process for the holiday season,” he says. “We have 15 performances to up to 20 performances in the course of about 18 days and we have a core set of music that, at this point, has been used for several decades.”

The history of “Candlelight, Carols and Dessert” provides a link between generations of choir students.

“It has been something consistant for a long time,” Schneider says. “I can look at set lists from as far back as 2008. So, the process of learning from the people who were here before you is really important.”

He talks about the process of assigning hard-copy scripts and putting names on them.

“I never ask anyone to erase their name. So, for example, one girl here has a sister who was also in Swing Choir, so she has a couple of her sister’s pieces,” he says.

This also contributes to a sense of memory and relationships in the choir.

“I can see whose name was on the scripts that I pull, take a snap shot of it and send it to that person with a note that says, ‘I saw this today and was thinking about you!’” Schneider says.

How students learn varies, he notes.

“Learning every piece is different. Some pieces have a very prescribed way to learn them versus others where we just do, maybe, eight measures,” he says.

This year Swing Choir has 14 members in it. The size range changes based on student participation

“It’s an audition ensemble and we meet early in the morning,” Schneider says, “You very much have to want to be here and participate. It’s five days a week — a huge time commitment.”

It’s clear that close to the holidays the week is busy and not everyone is here. One member left early and the rest of the academic day starts in about 10 minutes.

Rehearsal for “Candlelight and Carols and Dessert” isn’t the only music being rehearsed at Homer High last week. Out in the commons stage on the same morning, the jazz band performs holiday tunes before the start of the school day.

Emilie Springer can be reached at

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