Leo Christmas Concert and Things That Never Change

Last Wednesday, December 19th, the Leo Calendar hit the date for the “World Renowned Leo High School Choir” to stage it’s Christmas concert, “A Celebration of Christmas”.  For those who were able to find time away from their overly busy schedules to attend, the experience was a reward that would bring even the biggest curmudgeon a lot closer to the joy of Christmas than they had been just 90 minutes before. 

Some of our alumni remember the experience of the Leo Choir as it it existed in the years prior to 1970, a group of well groomed men in sports jackets, frequently accompanied by all or a portion of the Leo Band.  I never heard their Christmas concert, but I do remember their spring concert.  They sung the contemporary songs of the day, for instance the 1964 choir sang a “Showboat Medley”, along with “Stormy Weather”.  The 1967 choir sang a selection form the movie “Oliver” along with “Born Free” from the movie with the same name which had come out just the year before.  They also included selections with an older American feel, like “They Call the Wind Mariah” and others.  On review, the songs were not really that old at the time, they just sounded that way to my teenage self, which had never heard anything like them. 

I don’t know if the Glee Club members received much in the way of musical training or if they just joined (or were “drafted”) and then found their way around the tunes. I do know, however, that the Glee Club and the band at the time was so well developed, they made such great music and they seemed to be such a thing, that it was enough reason in itself for a young man to want to attend Leo High.

Fast forward to 2018, the newly revived Leo Catholic High School choir, under the direction of Ms. La Donna Hill.  Not surprisingly, it is a smaller group than our Glee Clubs of old.  After an introduction  by School President Dan McGrath and the invocation, the program itself began with a drum line, and then moved on to the Leo “Recorder Ensemble” performing traditional Christmas selections.  This was followed by selections by individual singers and a reading.  Then we were finally treated to The Choir itself which sang a selection of very traditional Christmas songs and Christmas favorites.  The program finished with School Principal Shaka Rawls directing choir members and a  group of students in delivering bags of presents to young children in the audience.

The stage was set like the movie-set version of what a high school Christmas choir set should look like, all holiday whites and reds.    The Drum Line and the Recorder Ensemble members were formally decked out in their uniform white shirts and black pants. 

The Drum Line was sharp and precise, much like a drum and bugle corps except without the marching.  I cannot remember the selections, but they definitely performed the function of entertaining and loosening up the audience. 

Then there was the “Recorder Ensemble”.  Those of  you who learned how to play a musical instrument, as well as those of us of less talent, who were inflicted upon music teachers as their challenge,  are probably familiar with the recorder.  It is a simple little woodwind instrument which is excellent for teaching newcomers a great deal about music, including chords, pitch, harmony and actual tunes.  Like everything else in the world, there are actually people who play the recorder professionally.

Leo’s Recorder players were clearly striving toward the professional end.  They put on a display of their considerable training by by performing their traditional Christmas tunes in a manner which was well harmonized and followed even the more difficult notes.  It was different than the Leo Band of old, this was a small group creating a Christmas mood with minimal instrumentation and it worked.  The “Recorders” succeeded in adding more Christmas spirit to the event. 

Then it was on to the choir itself.  I remember when I was the age of these Leo students.  I would have been, just a little, entirely and completely mortified by the prospect of singing (and doing a little dancing!) in front of an audience that included my parents, siblings, relatives, teachers and classmates.  I seem to remember nightmares where that was the theme.

Well, I am proud to report that today’s Leo man feels exactly the same way.  I believe I saw “cowed and intimidated” when they first stepped in front of the group, but it only took a few short minutes for them to find the courage to carry off their performance, acting in accordance with their training every inch of the way. 

Except swaying. They did not quite get it together with swaying to the music.  This was despite Ms. Hill’s encouragement.  It’s my observation that for some reason, while in school, Leo men lose all flexibility in their joints when in front of groups.  They can no longer bend.  It is a little bit endearing, (“the poor guys, how do they pick things up?). This group, however, more than made it up with their musical ability and their singing talent and created a choral concert, carried by the few, that captured the holiday spirit in the way that everyone who is striving to do so really hopes the spirit can be captured.  Their parents, relatives, teachers and classmates were impressed and thrilled with the display of talent and they showed it with hugs and congratulations when the singing was done.

After the singing, I had the opportunity to talk to Ms. Hill, the music director.  I asked her about the recorder concert.  It was clear from our brief discussion that she is fully engaged in taking on the considerable task of training these gentlemen in music in every way possible, and the recorder is one of her tools.  She believes in the students and music.  I’m paraphrasing her, but she said something in the order of  “the music makes a difference and the music changes lives”‘.  She intends to drive that difference.  What a wonderful person for these young men to have in their lives. 

The event finished with Shaka thanking everyone, closing with the Leo fight song and a prayer, and having the choir members and the students distribute gifts to the “little kid” attendees.  The kids were, of course, thrilled.  It was a great event.  Well attended and the attendance, like that of the school, keeps going up each year.  Its well worth attending, an Alumni Association “five thumbs up”.  If you have the chance, don’t deprive yourself.  You’ll be happy you attended. 

Merry Christmas,

The Leo Alumni Association                                  

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