by Anna Ferraro
All in all, the month of October held a lot of typical choir practices for the elementary students at Our Saviour School (OSS). In their 30-minute sessions with “Miss Jones,” they’d gather around the piano and sing their “hello song” to warm up. They’d talk about music symbols and sounds, and study their composer of the month.
They started with Beethoven in September, and evolved into Grieg, enjoying the spooky sounds of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” in late October. Transitioning into Copland, they studied his lively “Rodeo” in November. But around Halloween, Jones jumped the gun and brought out the composer for the month of December a little early …
George Frederic Handel. In class, he’s known as “Mr. Handel” (as George Frederic is a bit of a mouthful for a bunch of Midwest kids!). Yes, it’s the Handel of Handel’s “Messiah.” And yes, this year at OSS, these little kids are doing it, or a version of it at least, under the direction of Polly Jones.
Jones is no stranger to the challenges of music education. Holding her bachelors in music education and a master’s degree in administration, she’s now the assistant principal at OSS, in addition to teaching K-5 general music. Assuming her position at OSS in 2014, she said it was the perfect job to get her back into teaching after several years of leave.
In past years at OSS, she’s done standard selections of sacred and secular Christmas music. But this year at OSS, she commented, “I knew I could tackle “Messiah,” and we have the perfect audience for it …” She chose “Christmas Messiah for Young Voices” by Timothy Sharp – a program that has the famous pieces from “Messiah” arranged for children’s choir and connected by speaking parts. And in OSS tradition, there is a Holy Family represented in the program.
Jones explains, “OSS kids are such bright kids. I knew I could throw this at them, and they could pull it off.” Jones comments, “In the beginning, it was a little fracky. But the students have come to appreciate the many notes on each word. Some of the students have some tough arpeggios that they sing. Also, there are some difficult solos, and the soloists are doing beautifully.”
They started practicing around Halloween week. Jones commented, “They know that by Thanksgiving, we’re off the books, and we’re singing it all out of our music brains. And the kids are all over it. Not only are they tackling their choral pieces with enthusiasm, they’re relishing the challenge of bringing such a well respected piece of choral repertoire to life with their young voices.” After class one day, a kindergartner asked Miss Jones, “Do you think Mr. Handel is proud of us?”
Jones is excited about the upcoming performance, saying, “It’s very minimal, I’m not a big, flashy person. But the music speaks to the audience.” In their concert presentation, all grade levels will sing the opening song, and then present their own songs between the speaking parts. The program culminates in the students joining voices to sing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Jones shared, “I feel like I’m exposing them to a great piece of music … and the best part is, they’re excited.”