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Sup with the Sup
Episode 18: Centennial Acapella Choir
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Welcome everyone to the next episode of Provo City School District’s What’s Up With The Sup podcast. I am Superintendent Wendy Dau. For this week’s episode, I crashed a class at Centennial Middle School where I was able to visit with choir director Heather Williams and her a capella students. We will talk about all that goes into preparing for their holiday concert and get a sneak peek at a few of their songs.

But before we hear from them, let’s review our updates.

  • This is the last week to vote on the calendar options for the 2025 2026 school year. Please look for one of the emails that has been sent from the district to view the options and submit your vote. The survey closes at midnight.
  • The contest for students to design a Find Your Swing pin is in its last week.We have received several submissions so far, but we will gladly accept more. Students can continue to submit their best artwork representing the Find Your Swing theme for the book The Boys in the Boat for a chance to have their design become the pin. Artwork can be turned into their school’s main office by Wednesday, December 13th, and the winner will receive a 100 gift card from the superintendent.
  • We are in the holiday season and that means that our schools will be holding their holiday concerts. Be sure to check the district or school websites for dates and times. Help spread holiday cheer with Timpview High School’s Sub for Santa program. Starting after Thanksgiving break, November 27th, 2023 and continuing through winter break until January 3rd. Timpview is teaming up with United Way and the food and care coalition to support families in our district. Whether you want to donate new gifts, contribute cash, or find more ways to join in, please visit timpviewsubforsanta.weebly.com and make this season extra special to those in need.
  • The next school board meeting will be a study session and business meeting on Tuesday, December 12th. Study sessions are held in boardroom one at the district office and business meetings take place in the professional development center. Both meetings are open to the public and public comment is welcomed at the business meeting. Study session will begin at. 4. 35 p. m. in boardroom one, and the business meeting will begin at 7 o’clock p.m. in the Professional Development Center.
  • Look for the weekly videocast from Superintendent Dau this Friday. In this short video, I will provide important information and updates about work happening throughout the district. And now onto our podcast.

Wendy: Well, we are here today at Centennial Middle School in Mrs. Williams choir class. And I’m going to have her talk to you a little bit about this particular class that we’re going to be hearing from today. And then tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been here.

Heather: Well, thank you so much for being here today, Wendy. We’re super excited. My name is Heather Williams. I have been a teacher, this is my 16th year, uh, third year here at Centennial. And the group we’re gonna hear today is Acapella. And they are a select audition group of only eighth grade students that I had all year last year and went through an audition process. And so we work really, really hard and really fast and they do some really difficult music. Um, they’re just a great, great kids. So it’s been fun to work with them here.

Wendy: Well, I’ve already, I’ve already heard them warm up and, uh, I’m sure we’re in for a great treat. So tell me a little bit about the audition process. What do you require the students to do and how much work is going into that before they become a member of a cappella?

Heather: So this group, we move through our music so quickly. So they have to have some pretty strong sight reading skills because they get their music and they have to do some of it on their own. So the audition process. It involves sight reading, um, on solfege or syllables, numbers, whatever they, um, can do skill wise. Rhythm reading, so I can see if they can delineate between different note values. And then every choir member, whoever auditions, learns, um, uh, their part for My Country, Tis of Thee, so that I can, across the board, match who’s doing what, and it makes it a little bit more even that way. Um, sopranos learn the alto line so I can see that they can hold a part that’s not the melody. Um, cause sopranos get the melody pretty frequently, but every once in a while when they don’t, it’s like I gotta make, I gotta make sure that they can do this. And so these kids can all hold their own and create their own and I’m sure you heard them a little bit earlier. They’re just harmonizing because that’s what they do. They walk down the hall singing. They’re great kids.

Wendy: That’s incredible. Well, why don’t we stop and, uh, hear one of their numbers for just a minute.

Heather: That’d be great.

Wendy: That’d be great.

Heather:All right, peeps. Let’s do it.

Choir sings “Here Comes Santa Claus”

Wendy: Nice. That was incredible. Way to go. Obviously getting ready for the holiday season is a really stressful time for a choir director. So tell me about the all the preparation that goes in and different concerts that you’re doing and all of that good stuff. Yeah, all the things.

Heather: Um, so I’m super lucky to have so many kids this year. We have 300 kids in our choir program this year. And that’s up from, I think we were at 195 last year. So we’ve really, really grown. And because of that, we have expanded our concert season to two performances. So that family get more than one ticket because we want to enjoy this, um, celebration time. And so all the kiddos learn their music in class. Each choir has three pieces because it’s one full combined concert this season instead of the two separate ones that we normally do. And then we do a huge mass choir piece at the very end. We actually had our first mass dress rehearsal for that today. So they learned where they’re gonna stand and we mix and we’re surrounding the audience and sing silent night and we’ve got candles and just the whole shebang.

So, um, we spend a lot of time in class. learning our fun music, but we also do choreography in some of it and we get to have a little bit more fun with the holiday music. And so they tend to learn it a little bit faster, which makes it so much fun for everybody involved. And then the concert just is full of energy, full of fun. And then we close with that wonderful. piece of music and we invite the audience to sing with us on the last verse and so there’s like a thousand people in the auditorium singing and it’s just so amazing and there’s tears and there’s parents waving to their children standing next to them and just all the things. Um, and it’s, it’s an experience.

Wendy: Oh, I love that word. It’s an experience. It’s just, it kind of consumes you in that, in that moment. What are the dates of those concerts?

Heather: Oh, they’re coming up. Our concerts are next week on Wednesday and Thursday. So December 13th and 14th, both shows start at 6 PM.

Wendy: Okay.

Heather: We’d love to have community. yourself. You know, obviously, um, anyone who would love to come to fill out our audience. We have about 630 seats and we’re right now filled to 550. So we have about 80 seats left for each.

Wendy: I better hurry. Okay.

Heather: Um, but we’d love to fill the house and let the kids, you know, have that experience of having a packed house, having a full celebration of what they do and what they learn and the talents that they have. These kids are amazing.

Wendy: I can see that for sure, um, just in their rendition of, uh, Here Comes Santa Claus. So, this year, what, what is your favorite piece of music that those students are performing? Or what helps you, what guides you? Like, how do you choose? Like, Christmas music can either get really boring because it gets really redundant or how do you mix it up and how do you how do you make those decisions?

Heather: There’s so much that plays into it so I have a lovely long spreadsheet of like these are the pieces I’ve used in the past that have worked and so I can’t use them until a rotation has been through long enough. Um, but it really comes down to the personality of the choir and skill level as well, like the advanced choirs are obviously going to get harder music. But I try to make it, yeah, it’s a holiday celebration, but it’s also winter, and we also have students that don’t celebrate certain holidays, and so we want to make sure that everyone is included. And so we tend to do a couple of holiday pieces, and then one that’s more winter or more serious, so that we can kind of break that up. And it always surprises me, because I’ll pick pieces, and I’m like, oh, these kids are going to rock this, they’re going to love it. And they’re like, okay, cool, I mean, we’ll sing it, because you picked it for us. And then the pieces, I’m like, I’m picking this because it’s just educationally wonderful, the harmonies are amazing but it’s gonna be harder. And they’re like, okay, this is my jam. The pieces I think you’re gonna not like are usually the ones that they end up loving the most. But Holiday does lend itself to some more fun because there’s so many wonderful arrangements of all the pieces that we love. Even if we’re doing a piece, it’s the same as – the same title as previous year. It’s a different arrangement. It’s a different mixture. It’s different kids and they just put their own spin on it. So it’s a fun season to pick music for and it takes a long time.

Wendy: And it really seems to me like it’s a, it’s a time where you could take that music that they’re familiar with and you could bump up the skill level requirement. Right. Because they already are familiar with the song itself. And so now you can do some really creative things.

Heather: It does lend to that. It also does lend to like, Oh, I already know this. So I’m going to sing it the way I know it. So we have to have those conversations of like, don’t sing it the way it’s on the radio. We are not all Mariah Carey. Um, plug, we are singing that song with Aria. Um, so we have to have those conversations every once in a while, but these kids are so well trained. Um, so well talented that I can say, Hey, this is not the way it’s going to sound the way you’re used to it. And they’ll, and they just, they just do what

Wendy: They just do what you need them to do. So that’s incredible. What is the feedback from the community? Like, how does this help bring our community together? Because I have fond memories. I’m a choir kid myself. And so just, I still remember like all of my choir concerts and the feeling that I had. And I can tell you what was sung in each concert and different things. So tell me about how that actually helps the students and brings about our community.

Heather: Um, so because we, I work with such a large number of students, I, we get to access a larger number of our community. We have so many more parents involved, um, by volunteering their time, helping with the kids during concerts and such. But really what it comes down to me is like seeing that community built between my students and seeing the kids that might not be part of a certain friend group or like considered part of, you know, a certain situation being pulled into that a smaller group of friends are being recognized in the hallway, creating that choir family, which then transcends outside of the classroom. And I see it in the hallways. I see it after school. Um, we get a lot of parent emails. We, as an, I get a lot of parent emails that say, you know, thanks so much because so and so was having a hard day and came to your class and was able to be with peers or was able to be lifted up by that music and that’s why I got into this. Like, choir literally saved my life at this age. Like, these kids are who I was in middle school and it changed my life and being able to do that for the kids that need it, it’s everything.

Wendy: Now you’re changing lives. Do you have another, are you, do you have another song for us?

Heather: We do.

Wendy: Oh, okay. I’m excited. I’d love to hear another one. Heather: All right, peeps, let’s do this. Yay!

Choir sings

Wendy: Well, that was incredible. And you said something, um, about choir kind of transforming your life. Like it, it made such a difference in your own life as a student. Tell me a little bit about how performing arts, how you’ve seen it change students and the impact that it has on kids lives beyond just, I get to be in a choir class.

Heather: For sure. Across my career, it doesn’t matter what kind of student I’m working with, what their economic, their status is, it really doesn’t matter. Um, what it creates is impact on themselves with their self esteem. It creates opportunities for them to shine and grow in places that they might not be able to do across their academic skills. Um, it also gives someone a safe spot to be across any performing arts drama, orchestra, band, choir. Some students come to school because it’s the day they get to go to that class. Some students come to school because they have a solo audition or they want to be first chair in orchestra. Um, and so they’ve got to be that example. And so having them in the building is the first step sometimes. And so being that person or being that classroom or that opportunity is so awesome. And it’s a heavy weight sometimes because you can see the kids that need it, but it’s so fulfilling.

Wendy: So the work that you put in is so worth the reward in the end and also for the, and very much so for the kids too. I was reading an article about how choirs are really an interesting phenomenon because as a choir sings together, their hearts start to beat together and it lowers their blood pressure and their breathing is because their breathing is all in sync. Um, and I’m thinking about what is the transformation that we have in our students as they learn to be part of something that’s bigger than themselves. Because, yeah, I get a solo part, but really it’s about this whole group. And, and how do those lessons, um, kind of transcend into their daily life?

Heather: That’s one of my favorite things to tell my kiddos, is like, you, this is like a sports team. You’re all important, you’re all necessary, and you all need to be a part of this. Like, if we’re missing one person, it’s like the quarterback being gone. You have to be here and be a part of it. And it’s, we have those magical moments in class where, yeah, we’re learning parts and it’s messy and we fall over things. And we, we train wreck is what we call it in here. We’re just going to train wreck it and keep going forward. And then all of a sudden we’re all on the same ride. We all have those vowels together. We all have that beautiful cord and you can just see. the eyeballs light up, or you can see them looking at their friends like, we just did that. That was me, that wasn’t the teacher telling me what to do, like that was my skill, that was my level, and it gives them that little boost that I can do this in other classes. I can be part of a group, I can be part of a project, I can have the confidence to step up and lead because I’ve done it here.

Wendy: That’s excellent. Um, tell me about some of the other choir classes and opportunities that students have, or even for music in general here at Centennial.

Heather: For sure, we are super lucky to have arts across the board. So many talented ensembles. Um, our band has,I want to say four or five fully functioned, like really nice ensembles. Um, orchestra has several from beginning to advance that you can audition for. I obviously don’t know as much about that. So I’m going to say they’re amazing and wonderful. Um, but for choir, we have, Four auditioned choirs, a cappella is the highest one and it’s only eighth graders. Then we have chamber choir, which these students are also a member of. So if they’re in a cappella, they have to be in chamber choir too. So they do two choirs and that is about 42 students mixed SATB. We, we do up to eight part split music. Okay. And we’re currently working on the Mozart Requiem Mass to sing at our masterworks with Provo and Timpview and Dixon as well.

Wendy: Okay.

Heather:And then we have Aria, which is our highest, um, women’s group. So we do three to four part women’s split, also auditioned. And then concert choir is like our intermediate, starting to be auditioned, um, level mixed boys and girls. And then our entry level kids who don’t want to audition or miss the opportunity or just kind of want to learn, we have a bass choir and a treble choir. Um, and so we do that by voicing and not by gender. So that students whose voices haven’t changed, because middle school is middle school. You just never know what you’re gonna get. Um, so we have some gentlemen that are still in the treble choir until their voices change, and then we switch it out. So we have two beginning, anyone can sign up, and the rest are auditioned.

Wendy: Oh, that’s, and you said you have 300 students this year?

Heather: I do, we have like, I think the final count is like 287.

Wendy: That’s that’s incredible. And you guys are on five by five schedules. So these students have you every other day.

Heather: They do. Okay, so, oh, yeah, so it makes the rehearsal window technically like four weeks because it’s kind of stressing me out my first year here going, holy bananas. Um, but the classes 65 to 72 minutes and they use the time effectively. We rehearse, we run hard. These kids started their music before our October concert was even there. happening because they had run through their music so well that we’re like, cool, let’s move forward and, and get into this. And so if we have the time, we use it. And they’re, they’re really good about just trucking into the music, but it’s a fast rehearsal window.

Wendy: Yes. It would be, it would be for sure. So what makes this community such a great community to have a choir program in because sometimes different communities, it’s hard to get kids interested in choir. So what are the things that are happening in Provo that make this such a great space for the arts? Because I think it’s incredible what we have here.

Heather: It’s amazing. Um, I will say I came from Denver and I taught in a hard to serve school right by Denver Airport. And that was a community where I was pulling teeth, like, you want to be here, like, let’s, let’s do this, yay, we got it. And here I walked in and it’s like, oh, my kids are in private lessons or my kids are, play instruments as well. Like, we have multiple students in this ensemble across the board that are in orchestra band and choir. Or they’re, they do more than one. We have the musical theater, they’re doing that as well. There’s just so many opportunities for the arts here in Provo. We have a lot of kids that perform in the outside theaters and they bring those skills in here. You know, a lot of them grew up singing at church every Sunday, which, you know, it is what it is. And it helps because they come in there like, I can match pitch because I sang Sunbeam coming all the way up, you know. And it’s just really fun to kind of see that that talent is ingrained that we have musical families. I’ve…siblings, like, it’s just really fun to see that it’s ingrained in families. And so those families give it to me like they let me borrow their students for, you know, an hour a day and then I get to send them home and be done. But it’s just really fun to see those talents that they’re willing to share with me and that they’re supporting their kids who want to do all these things. Because I know that that’s also hard too. It’s a time commitment. It’s driving your kids to the concerts, to the rehearsals, to, we, we do state and that you never know where that’s gonna be. We went down in Springville, we’ve been in Farmington, it might be at Snow College, it’s like the, these parents drive and pick up and drop off and all the things and they just want their kids to shine, which is exactly what I want them to do as well and so they are super awesome about supporting their kids and getting what they need. That’s incredible.

Wendy: Do you guys have one more song you want to sing?

Heather: We could do another one we were talking about too, but do you want to do another one? Carry the Light, got it.

Wendy: Alright, yes!

Choir sing Carry the Light

Wendy: I think my heart started beating in sync with theirs and I was like breathing with them. So that was pretty incredible. What else would, if I’m a parent and I’m, or I’m a student and I’m thinking, do I want to be involved in choir? Like, what would, what would be your words of advice?

Heather: Yes, you do. Yes, you do. Um, I would say, you know, you’re never going to know until you do it. And, you know, choir’s not for everyone. Band is not for everyone. Orchestra’s not for everyone. But you won’t know until you get into that and you figure out if you have that. Spark, or even if it’s not something that you want to do forever, doing it now still gives you those skills and those opportunities and those relationships that will carry through. I’m still friends with some of the people that I was friends with in choir in middle school and high school because those are the, the connections you make. And so it’s important to try new things and to be scared and to be nervous, but to be brave and have that courage to try something new. And this is what comes of it like these kids. They’re just, they’re just everything. They are, they’re my heart. They’re my soul. They are so funny. They’re so kind. They are so talented and I just love them, and they’re amazing, just amazing people.

Wendy: And they are very lucky to have you as their choir director.

Heather:Y’all, I get all teary eyed.

Wendy: I know, I love it. I love it.

Heather: I cry every concert. I’m like, darn it. Darn it.

Wendy: I hope that, that everyone sees just the passion and the love that our teachers have, but in particular that you have for the students here at Centennial Middle School. school.

Heather: Thank you so much.

Wendy: Yeah, it’s been a real pleasure to crash your class today.

Heather:We’ve loved having you. They were so excited.

Wendy: Yeah. No, it’s, it’s super fun. And I love choir. I could sit in this. I could sit in this room all day long.

Heather: You’re always welcome. Okay. Always welcome.

Wendy: Now y’all know where to find me if I’m hiding from something because this will be my happy place.

Heather: Please do. We love having visitors.

Wendy: Thank you so much. And you guys have a wonderful holiday and I’ll see you guys at the concert next week.

Heather: Wonderful. We’ll be glad to have you there.

Wendy: Thank you so much.

Heather: Thank you. Bye bye.

Wendy: Thank you for joining me for this episode of What’s Up with the Soup? As always, all episodes will be posted on YouTube, the district website, and anywhere you get your podcasts. If you have any topics or questions you would like us to discuss on the podcast, please email us at podcast at provo.edu.

Shauna Sprunger
  • Coordinator of Communications
  • Shauna Sprunger
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