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Roaring Fork choir ready to sing in the holidays

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By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff

At a small school, a single teacher can make all the difference.

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Case in point: Marcia Kuhlman and the fledgling Roaring Fork High School Choral Music Department, which puts on its inaugural Holiday Harmonies Winter Concert event beginning at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at The Orchard.

Although far from lacking in performing arts — Mark Gray leads bands for both middle and high school, Rachel Cooper coaches speech and hosts a meet and Ralph Young ran a robust drama department until his departure — RFHS’s choir program has been intermittent.

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In fact, the current crop of singers is already the largest the school has ever fielded, according to Kuhlman.

“It’s a chance to tap into that talent.”

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Kulhman hails from Detroit originally and Grand Junction most recently, and brings a Masters in Choral Conducting with her. Her husband works in the oil and gas industry, and while she doesn’t technically need to work, that’s not going to stop her.

“It’s a real commitment. I hemmed the dresses for the concert myself. I’m here early and late a lot and I’m not sorry,” she said. She’s also taking an intercambio Spanish course to better mesh with the school’s diversity.

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The students bring plenty of commitment, too. While the girls’ choir is a class, the boys meet at lunch. This spring, they may take time out of school to participate in competition — for comments only at this stage.

“A lot of these guys had never been on stage before,” she said. “They need this outlet.”

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Mike Topete is one of those kids whose choir experience amounts mostly to “10 years of singing along with songs on the car radio,” but after the group’s first concert back in October he’s learned how to deal with “that creeping fear in the back of your head.”

“It’s nerve wracking to be surrounded by people with more experience, but it’s also comforting,” he said. “When you do it with an audience, it serves a bigger purpose.”

Even with musical experience, choir has a lot of different opportunities and challenges. Just ask Travis Ochko, who’s part of the high school band “Sleepy Justice.”

“I’ve noticed how much I’ve already grown vocally. A room full of people that share the same passion adds a deeper beauty to the process,” he said. “You have to place a lot of trust in other people, but it’s really cool to hear someone just nail their part.”

The singers — men and women — have really grown together. The performance will feature individual talents as well as bringing the whole crew together with support from the guitar class (which includes several choir members, anyway).

Quite aside from the cooperative element, Bailey Griebel sees something extra special about vocal music.

“It’s not just blowing into an instrument,” she said. “It’s more personal and you pay more attention.”

The kids hope that will come out on stage, whether they’re singing quirky tunes about cocoa or tackling a traditional Spanish carole.

“We really get to prove what we can do,” said Patrick Keleher.

A robust audience would be an excellent show of support, and the event is also a fundraiser for the program, complete with a silent auction featuring items from local restaurants, businesses, and artists.

Long term, Kuhlman hopes to see the choir turn into something great.

“No one wants to be part of something that’s mediocre,” she said. “You have to build that ownership.”

With choir well on its way, she’ll turn her attention toward drama in the spring — so look for a return of RFHS stage productions next school year and don’t be surprised if there’s a musical.

Next Steps

What: Holiday Harmonies Choir Concert

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 12

Where: The Orchard (10 Snowmass Dr.)

How much:  Adults are $10, students and seniors are $8, children 6-12 are $5 and anyone younger gets in free. Get ’em in advance by emailing mkuhlman@rfschools.com

More info:  roaringforkchoirs.wixsite.com/holidayharmonies.

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