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The bi-annual event was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so this was the first time in three years more than 500 Academy District 20 students and staff performed together. Parents filled nearly every level of the performing center to watch students deliver their rehearsed harmonies.

The audience would never know, just hours before the performance, students were rehearsing together for the first time. For months, students practiced on their own and with their school choirs. But, it wasn’t until the day of the event every student performer rehearsed “My Country Tis of Thee” on the same stage.

“There was a lot of community built in those few short hours as the students came together to work toward a common goal,” Austina Lee, Choir Director at Air Academy High School and one of the masterminds behind the event.

Her partner in crime and Eagleview Choir Director Wes Sparkes said hearing student voices together was incredibly rewarding. “This took a lot of work and prep time, but when we got there, it just felt like a normal day of choir,” Sparkes explained.

Elementary students kicked-off the concert and were led by clinician Emily Crile. They wowed the crowd with their composure and renditions of “If I Knew You” by Cynthia Gray, and “Try Everything” an arrangement by Alan Billingsley.

“This event is like placing one domino at a time for the several months leading up to the event. Then on the day of the event, it felt like getting to tip the first domino of an intricate design and watch as the beautiful creation falls into place,” Lee said.

This is the first time elementary students have been asked to participate in the concert. Before 2020, the concert included only secondary schools, and each choir would perform its own songs, followed by an all-voice finale.

The new model creates more opportunities for schools and students to collaborate. Sparkes said, “Hopefully, this led to a greater sense of purpose, belonging and acceptance for every person who was part of the event, including teachers, students and audience members.”

After a brief intermission, middle school students, led by clinician, Philip Drozda, showed off their skills with “Hine Ma Tov,” a Hebrew folk song that translated to, “Now we all gather together in joyful celebration. Oh, how joyful for us to be together. How good it is and how, pleasant for brethren to dwell together.”

Song choices were carefully selected to highlight the ASD20’s value statement, “We believe our people are the heart of our success. We aspire to practice meaningful inclusion, honor diversity, and develop a culture of belonging throughout our school community.”

Each grade level’s clinician was instructed to choose songs that highlighted the value statement. Sparkes said, “The songs were still a challenge to students, but allowed them to make further connections with them about the meaning behind each song.”

High school students were the last group to take the stage, led by Dr. Kyle Fleming, with performances including of “My Very Own” by Susan LaBarr. To no one’s surprise, the performance brought the audience to tears. Dr. Fleming took a non-traditional approach to the concert. Between songs he explained how each performance encapsulated “a culture of belonging.”

“Have you been listening to the words of their songs?” Dr. Fleming asked. “They’ve been singing about compassion, togetherness, empathy, making space for people different than us. Belonging is expensive because it requires you and I to give something,” he said.

With a roaring round of applause from the audience, students began their performance of, “When Our Voices Rise” by Stuart Chapman Hill.

The ASD20 All-District Choir Concert wouldn’t be possible without months of work and behind the scenes contributions.