The Tahlequah High School Choir is using music to bring people together and connect traditional students with virtual and special-needs students.

“We have a lot of exciting things going on in choir,” said THS Choir Director Holly Sisk. “We just got back from winning All-State in Oklahoma City.”

Next week, the singers will go to Tulsa for another competition.

This December, the choir performed in two events at the high school: Winter Follies and the Winter Concert.

“We just finished having our first-ever holiday follies, which was a fundraiser for the Edward Jones businesses in town,” said Sisk. “It was a fun thing for us to do. It was a good thing for our community and our audience. It was a variety show. We used teachers and students from across our entire school district. It was a lovely warm atmosphere and went well.”

During the Winter Concert, the choir invited the Tahlequah Middle School choir to perform with them. The performance ended with a rendition of “Silent Night,” as students lit electric candles and circled around the Performing Arts Center.

“Good things are happening, and we are getting ready to charge forward with our spring semester,” said Sisk.

She believes choir is an important aspect of education because it teaches self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth.

“It helps them learn to not get embarrassed in front of a group of people. It helps them to be able to form words and be well-spoken,” she said. “I really think that is a huge thing it does. Every kid in school should take arts, whether choir or theater. I firmly believe if you have this, you’ll be ahead of the people you work with.”

To keep students engaged, Sisk works with them to figure out their interests and lets them have a say in what songs they perform.

“When we sing, I have really tried to make sure our kids effectively tell our story, so whatever story we have in our song, we can connect it with our audience so they can come along in the journey of the song with us,” said Sisk.

Choir has helped to connect virtual students with others. Students who learn at home are able to come for one period a day for an elective class they cannot take at home.

Katherine Kavanagh is a THS student who decided to study virtually after her mother underwent surgery. She has been in choir for seven years and describes herself as a theater nerd.

“Choir has been great for me. Especially during my freshman year, my mom was going through surgery. At that time, the choir was in first hour, and it helped alleviate the stress of it," she said. "Once COVID happened, we went all virtual, and I stayed virtual. After my mom went into surgery, we didn’t want her to get sick. Choir was my only in-person class, and it’s been really fun."

Choir has given her a chance to perform in Tahlequah, as well as out of state. Her freshman year, she traveled to San Antonio, where she performed with the THS choir.

“Choir gives me a chance to have sociability. I also love to be able to gain experience and help my voice grow. I’m also a camp counselor, so I sing a lot with my kids. With choir teaching me how to improve my singing, the kids enjoy my voice more,” said Katherine.

Darien Adair is a paraprofessional who works with special-needs students at Tahlequah High School. Her students call her Mrs. Darien.

She accompanies three of her students to choir who sing with the other kids. This cooperation between the classes has helped the special-needs students be a part of a group, and it has also taught the traditional choir students about friendship and empathizing with others.

“I bring three students to the choir. It started with less than that with just one. We’ve branched to bring more in. They have loved it,” said Adair. “They get to sing and participate just like everyone else and are not excluded from anything. They get to sing with them, stand with them, and feel like they are a part of a team.”

Many of the traditional choir students look for their friends in the hallway and say hi to them. In the fall, they were paired together and had a chance to do a dance number during the Fall Follies concert.

“They got to dance and they had the best time,” said Adair.

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