Choir finds a voice – Web Exclusive

Bobby Gibler | Staff Writer

The Southern Gateway Chorus joined the Mason High School choirs and Middle School eighth-grade men’s choir in performing a fundraising concert on March 18. All the proceeds gained from the concert, a total of $2900, were donated to the Elli Bennett Find a Voice Fund, a foundation dedicated to raising money for children unable to communicate vocally. The foundation uses donations to purchase assistive communication devices for children, which allow communication through use of touch-screen technology.

According to MHS Choral Directors Elaine Santos and Jacob Cook, the high school choral students that were involved felt enthusiastic and honored about participating in this fundraiser.

“[Our students] met our expectations and went beyond,” Santos said. “They [donated] their time and talent on a Friday night, in basketball season, to raise funds for a worthy cause and we have to commend our students for that. Today’s students are extraordinarily busy and the fact that [they] would take time out of their busy schedules on a Friday night speaks volumes about [their] generosity.”

The Southern Gateway Chorus is, according to Santos, a local organization that is widely acclaimed. While neither the MHS choirs nor the MMS men’s choir performed in unison with The Southern Gateway Chorus, Santos said her students’ reactions of the chorus’ performance were overwhelmingly positive.

“Our students were so enthusiastic about their applause and embracing everything that the men in the [Southern Gate Way Chorus’] quartet bought,” Santos said. “[The students] were pleasantly surprised. Whenever you hear the first chord, it’s so exciting to see our students go ‘Wow!’”

According to senior Tara Traxler, a member of MHS’ Honors Concert Choir, The Southern Gateway Chorus sang a large variety of styles at the concert including barbershop and gospel music. Traxler, who has seen shows from the chorus before, said she was very impressed with its performance.

“They were great as always and they’re always here to entertain and bring smiles to people’s faces,” Traxler said.

MMS Choral Director Holly Schreier said that while her eighth-grade choral students did not enter the concert with any expectations, they performed in the concert with a mindset of helping others.

“We will always embrace opportunities to help someone else,” Schreier said. “This concert gave [the eighth-grade men’s choir] exposure to the high school and professional choirs and gave them a vision of what they could become in high school and beyond.”

Schreier said the reaction from her students was also very positive.

“[My students’] first reaction was: ‘Wow, they’re really good,’” Schreier said. “We chose the [eighth-grade men] because they are men’s choir and Southern Gateway is a professional men’s choir, so we wanted to show them that model. I hope it planted a seed for the future.”

Traxler said Mason’s choirs plan to continue to host fundraising concerts in the future.

“[Mason’s choirs are] so happy to give back to the community,” Traxler said. “If we’re having a concert, what do we need the money for? Sure we have funding, but we get all of that from [other concerts].”

According to Santos, Elli’s parents addressed the audience with a DVD about Elli and her usage of the technology. Cook said he was personally moved by a video that was also played prior to the concert’s opening, which a showed Sebastian Mendoza, an MMS student, using an assistive communication device.

“[Elli Bennett’s parents] showed a video of the first student from Mason getting one of these devices. His first sentence was ‘I love swimming.’ It was the first sentence he was able to speak, and it was through this device,” Cook said. “That was really touching just to see somebody that’s right there – close to us – benefiting from this foundation. The parents are amazing for setting this up because they saw just how much this changed their daughter’s life.”

Santos said the fundraising concert gave donors and visitors a glimpse at how their money affected students in the Mason district.

“I think that was very important for all of our patrons and donors to see where their dollars were going – they were actually helping a Mason student,” Santos said. “[People] are always asked to donate money and [they’re] willing to do that – but we don’t see the people that it helps. In this instance, we [saw] it.”

Click the link below to see Sebastian Mendoza, an MMS student, who has found his voice through the Elli Bennett Find a Voice Fund: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnk1lQuVAMo