WESTMINSTER -- Powered by lunch and youthful energy, the Kurn Hattin Homes for Children's Select Choir sounds pretty good as it runs through a medley of "Oh Happy Day" and "Lean on Me" Thursday afternoon.
Fitting songs as it turns out. The choir is preparing for a very big deal that is equal parts "Oh Happy Day" and "Lean on Me."
This morning, the three dozen singers in fifth to eighth grades will head to Springfield, Mass., where they will compete in WGBY's televised choral contest "Together in Song."
Kurn Hattin is the first Vermont chorus selected for the show and will compete with 37 other choral groups from the region for the chance to appear in the live finale at Springfield's Paramount Theater on April 28.
There was a palpable charge of excitement in the air Thursday as the students, supported by choir director Lisa Bianconi and several other volunteers, faculty and staff, ran through their medley.
"It means a lot to me and the rest of the choir because this is the most important thing we've done together as a group," said Jahyde Bullard, a 13-year-old student at the home and school for boys and girls ages 6-15 whose families are experiencing a time of need.
"I wouldn't miss this for the world," added Talia Griffin, age 11.
No strangers to big deals, the Kurn Hattin choir has performed in New York, New Jersey and recently on stage at the Bellows Falls Opera House with Grammy-winning Cape Breton musician Natalie MacMaster.
"For these kids to go to a TV station to have a taping is like the most amazing experience of their lives," said Bianconi, who received a steady stream of good wishes and congratulations from colleagues Thursday and was quick to share credit whenever she could. "I think the most important component of the Kurn Hattin program is that it's a team. ... It's not just the music program, it really supports the whole community."
The singers will be in the studios of public television station WGBY for a few minutes today, long enough to record their medley. "Together in Song," hosted by Springfield Symphony Orchestra Maestro Kevin Rhodes, will air on WGBY on Saturdays at 8 p.m., beginning on March 23. The Kurn Hattin choir will compete with 37 other choral groups in 10 categories according to age and genre. Each week, a panel of judges, as well as TV viewers, vote for the best group in each category.
School faculty and staff stopped by rehearsal Thursday afternoon and spoke words of encouragement, sweetening those words with the promise of extra ice cream and a "dress down" day in celebration.
"We are very, very proud of you guys," said Principal Scott Tabachnick.
"We already feel like we won," said Bianconi.
That's all well and good, but the singers have high aspirations.
"I just want to win so people could know our choir," said Jahyde Bullard.
The key to success? "Be proud of ourselves," said Musa Abdi, 13.
The producers of "Together in Song" found out about the choir through a Kurn Hattin trustee who lives in the Springfield area. From there, the Kurn Hattin choir sent in an audition tape and was selected to compete in the show.
Word that Kurn Hattin was selected came on Dec. 21, the day of the school's family holiday concert. It was the best possible holiday gift.
"They were so excited and full of energy," said Bianconi.
Today's TV taping is just the latest proud accomplishment for a music program at Kurn Hattin that dates back to the 1920s when it was established by Mrs. Esther Mayo, wife of then director Pete Mayo. Under Mrs. Mayo's direction, the band once performed at The Waldorf Astoria in New York City for the New England Women National Convention. Among Kurn Hattin's notable alumni musicians are Dick Nash, trombonist for Henri Mancini and Emmy Award-winner for the score of the TV series "The Thornbirds" -- (his original Kurn Hattin trombone hangs on the music room wall). Another graduate of Kurn Hattin is Herman Robinson, who performed with the Metropolitan Opera.
Now, these young people are writing a new chapter.
"What Kurn Hattin allows these children is to have a sense of accomplishment that comes with hard work. Good things go to all of those dedicated to our program," Bianconi said.
"Music is my life. I've made tons of friends just by expressing my talent with music," said D'Leanne Solovei, 14. "Music makes me feel like I'm not alone ... that I have lots of people that I can connect with."