Serenading the seniors
"Have a holly, jolly Christmas. It's the best time of the year," the cheery little voices sang as several elderly folks hummed the familiar tune.
Seniors across Prineville were treated to some well-known Christmas carols last Thursday when the Barnes Butte Elementary Honor Choir visited Regency Village, the Prineville Senior Center and Carriage Place.
Also on the playlist were songs like "Let it Snow" and "Winter Wonderland."
"A few songs that everyone knows," commented Phil White, the music specialist at Barnes Butte Elementary who also directs the new Barnes Butte Elementary Honor Choir.
"This is the first year for our Honor Choir, and we're very excited," White said.
The community will have other opportunities to hear the new choir, made up of BBE third, fourth and fifth graders.
The Honor Choir will sing one song during the school holiday concert at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19 in the BBE gym. They will also join the Crook County Middle School and Crook County High School choirs for the Choir Cabaret at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20 in the CCHS auditorium.
There, the youngsters will sing two songs, "Holly Jolly Holidays" and "Holiday Blessings."
Some of his choir students participated in a holiday concert last year with the middle and high school choirs, and White says all of the students benefited from it.
"It's a real kick for the younger kids to sing with the older ones, and vice versa," he said. "The older kids get a sense of maturity and ownership, and the younger kids get a sense of some of the opportunities that lay ahead of them."
Although BBE had an after-school ukulele club and an after-school choir that teamed up with the CCMS and CCHS choirs last year, this is the first time for the an all-elementary choir.
"They were both a little eye-opening in terms of how many students were interested in participating," White said of the previous clubs. "My principal also encouraged me to 'go big' this year and to keep trying to find connections for kids to feel successful. Music can do that!"
Bates applauds White for his efforts.
"I encourage innovation and support trying new strategies that benefit students," Bates said. "The strong turnout is some of the best evidence that offering Honor Choir is good for kids."
About 40 BBE students meet from 3 to 4 p.m. after school each Tuesday to work on songs and things like teamwork and harmony.
"Harmony is more difficult than you might think – to sing on pitch while listening to another part sing something else. Even for most adults," White pointed out.
Honor Choir, he said, is a place for many of his students to feel welcome and successful.
"For others, it's a place to explore what may become a life-long love of music," he added.
BBE Principal Jim Bates is grateful to have White as a full-time music teacher.
White spent 14 years at Seaside, teaching high school and middle choir and drama before moving to Central Oregon in 2013 to be the elementary music teacher for the three schools in Prineville at that time.
"What a great experience that was," White said. "I'm so grateful to be here. I work every day with an amazing group of people who are dedicated to making sure that all kids have a place to feel safe, to learn, and know that they have friends and support."
This is his third year at Barnes Butte full time.
After the Christmas carols fade, the Honor Choir students will begin learning new songs for their next performance, the Kids' Choir Festival in Bend on March 16.
"He continues to look for ways for students to find a 'fit' at school," Bates said of the music teacher. "Our superintendent, Dr. Johnson, has five priorities to focus our services for children. One of those is having a 'role' at school. The Honor Choir is yet one more way for our kids to have a role and feel like they belong."