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Hail to the holidays: Youth group returns to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for third time

Virginia Youth Chorale
Members of the Top of Virginia Youth Chorale, who will sing at the White House on Friday, include, from left, Rachel Schlosser, 15, Rebekah LaRusso, 16, Lyndsey Bowers, 14, Brooke Pantalena, 17, and Myranda Dockeney, 18. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

The Virginia Youth Chorale sing
Members of the group rehearse at the Shenandoah Convservatory Arts Academy in Winchester. Front row are, from left, Melanie Miller, 12, Shamarra Diaz, 18, Patrick Bauserman, 11, Mackenzie Jones, 13, Nedha Gopal, 13, and Felicity Caldwell, 13. Back row, from left, are Schlosser, LaRusso, Bowers, Pantalena and Dockeney. Not pictured is Johanna Guz-Montgomery, 14. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Patty Austin leads the group
Patty Austin, director of the Top of Virginia Youth Chorale, leads the group in a song. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Patty Austin directs the Virginia Youth Chorale
Patty Austin directs the Virginia Youth Chorale during practice at the John Kerr Building in Winchester. They will perform at the White House next Friday. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Mackenzie Jones and Nedha Gopal sing
Mackenzie Jones, 13, and Nedha Gopal, 13, sing at the John Kerr Building in Winchester. They are members of the Virginia Youth Chorale who will sing at the White House next Friday. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Melanie Miller, Shammara Diaz and Patrick Bauserman
Singers from the Virginia Youth Chorale, Melanie Miller, 12, Shammara Diaz, 18, and Patrick Bauserman, 11, practice at the John Kerr Building in Winchester. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com
WINCHESTER -- For many people, singing at the White House is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Singing there for the third time, then, must mean a charmed existence for a choir of local teens.

The Top of Virginia Youth Chorale has been practicing for weeks with the hopes of receiving an invitation to return to Washington this year after performing two days in a row last December. Only a few days ago they got their wish.

The 12-member choir will sing at a reception at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on Friday.

Considering their hope of returning this year and the late news of the invite, it makes sense that one of the songs they'll sing, one of their favorite pieces, is "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day."

It's "a very old kind of carol," says choir director Patty Austin. The choir will also sing other Christmas carols, popular holiday songs and classics like "Ave Maria," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Angels We Have Heard on High."

In honor of the presidency, they will also sing "On Eagles Wings," by Michael Joncas, Austin said.

She and many members of the choir already have an idea of what to expect, having been through this before.

Last year they sang in the Visitors Foyer, Austin says, "Which was a really wonderful place to be. ... It brought out the best in the choir. It was very inspiring to be there."
A bust of President Lincoln and pictures of other presidents hung in the room around choir members, who were able to look out on the lights of the city as they sang for visitors arriving at and leaving the White House for the holiday reception, Austin says.
The president spoke each evening, she says, and greeted the crowd. The choir even posed with the Obamas for a photograph in the Diplomatic Reception Room, she says.
"It was very nice."

Seeing the photo in the choir room at the Shenandoah Conservatory Arts Academy building on the corner of Cork and Cameron streets in Winchester was enough to make newcomer Felicity Joy Caldwell hope the choir would return to Washington this month, her mother says.

"We just had our fingers crossed that again they'd be selected," says Joan Caldwell, of Front Royal. "She's very excited."

"She just joined in September, this is her first year," Caldwell says of 13-year-old Felicity. "She really loves it ... and it's such a great group."

The choir, which holds tryouts for membership, sent a letter of interest to the White House last year and submitted a recording of their work before receiving an invitation to sing several weeks later.

The reception was from 3 to 5 p.m. both days last year. Another choir, a string quartet and a guitarist also performed during the event.

Formerly under the direction of Janet Davis, the choir of youths ages 11-18 has been in existence for more than 28 years, Austin says.

"We try to do a good quality of music," she says.

At the academy, they "get a choral education and sight reading and artistry and just all the things that go into choral singing ... and vocal technique," Austin says.

The choir normally rehearses once a week on Mondays, performing several concerts throughout the year. Recently, members have met more frequently in anticipation of the White House holiday reception.

For more information about the Top of Virginia Youth Chorale, call the Shenandoah Conservatory Arts Academy office at 665-4602.


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