Singing in harmony, witnessing history

On January 30, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

SHS Chorus visits DC during Inauguration

SHS Chorus members on the National Mall during the Presidential Inauguration. ~Photo by Darius Green

SHS Chorus members on the National Mall during the Presidential Inauguration. – Photo by Darius Green

By Elizabeth Sheeran

Maybe it was climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to take in the view. Maybe it was hearing the Somerville High School name announced at a national awards banquet. Maybe it was standing on the National Mall during the Presidential Inauguration.

For the 29 Somerville High Chorus members who represented the school in Washington D.C. over the Inaugural weekend, it’s hard to pick just one highlight. They spent a whirlwind few days in the capital, touring national monuments, attending the Inaugural ceremonies, and competing in the Worldstrides Heritage Music Festival. And they came home with memories for a lifetime, not to mention a silver medal for the chorus room.

“We didn’t know that we were good enough to actually receive such an honorable award,” said junior Lipasha Pradhan, noting that it was the first time the chorus had competed out of state. “I didn’t think that we had that much potential compared to those other choirs that had a lot more experience. But we showed that Somerville has it in us. We showed that we could do it, and it was really a proud moment for everyone.”

Sophomore Judcine Felix said she’d been around music her whole life, but it was a new experience to perform among 27 school choirs from around the nation. “It brought a whole new meaning to what chorus is all about. The fact that there were so many different genres and so many looks that the choruses had. It was just amazing,” said Felix.

Chorus Director Beverly Mosby, who orchestrated the trip, said she wanted to give the students a chance to get “out of their bubble,” and to hear what choruses were doing in other parts of the country. She said it was a significant achievement for the Somerville chorus, the only entry from Massachusetts, to come within one point of a gold medal in its first foray into national competition.

Senior Nickolas Menezes said the Somerville students found the music festival intimidating at first. “It was our first time, so we were a little insecure with ourselves. But as soon as we started singing, the fear went away.”

Reuben Philemond and Judcine Felix enjoying the moment. ~Photo by Darius Green

Reuben Philemond and Judcine Felix enjoying the moment. – Photo by Darius Green

Menezes said the festival inspired them to work harder. But it also showed them how Somerville stands out. He said the judges complimented them on the energy they brought to the music, and gave them credit for the diversity of their repertoire, which included an upbeat a cappella spiritual, a French song Menezes described as “soothing and smooth,” and  a contemporary jazz piece with percussion, all sung in four- or five-part harmony.

Nickolas Eliadis, a freshman, said Somerville’s diversity is a strength compared with other schools. “Our chorus is more diverse, when it comes to both nationality – there’s a lot of different types of people in the chorus – but also, the whole chorus is not the best of the best students.” He said some choirs are only open to students who excel academically, but the Somerville High chorus welcomes everyone and pushes them to do better.

The students, who regularly refer to the chorus as their “second family,” said the D.C. trip gave them lots of opportunities to find common ground despite any of their differences. “We did a diverse range of things but the one thing that connected it all together was bringing the chorus together. The entire field trip was one big way for a family to ‘condensify’ even more,” said Menezes.

They bonded during the 10-hour bus rides each way. They bonded during mandatory mid-term study sessions at their hotel. And they bonded during the five-hour wait on the Mall on Inauguration Day, when they stayed warm by revisiting old schoolyard games, and even inventing new ones. But what really brought them together was the sense that they were representing their school and their community at a moment in national history.

“It was so much better because you’re representing the city as a group,” said Eliadis, who described being at the Inauguration as “surreal.” He said the students proudly talked about Somerville to anyone who asked where they were from. “Nobody knows us. They all know Cambridge and Boston. We really put Somerville on the map.”

Said Felix, “As a group, we represented Somerville well because of the fact that we are so diverse and Somerville’s so diverse. We have such a great bond as a chorus, we represent the togetherness of Somerville and the tight-knit community that Somerville has.”

Mosby, the choral director, said she was proud to see the way the students grasped the importance of the moment and rose to the occasion. “They can always say, ‘I was in the crowd,’ and ‘I was there when he did that,’ said Mosby. “They complained a little bit about the cold. I anticipated there would be a little bit of hi-jinks because they’re teenagers. But they behaved so well, and they were so respectful,” she said.

Pradhan said being respectful was an easy choice. “We’re in presence of the President of the United States, our country. So the right thing to do is to respect, and listen, because it’s such a learning moment. And if we talk through such a significant moment, it would be a waste.”

“We played around a lot and we were joking around and having fun while we were waiting. But when President Obama started to talk, we all stopped. We all stood up. Although our hands were freezing, we were holding up that flag. We did not stop moving that flag. Our hands were turning red, but we respected him enough to not care about the cold, not care how tired our legs were, or anything. We were part of history.”



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