West Linn HS choir shares Christmas cheer amid pandemic

Special Reports

Small group of students caroled through neighborhoods ahead of the holidays

WEST LINN, Ore. (KOIN) — The coronavirus pandemic has changed so much for students in Oregon, but one high school choir is refusing to let it silence their voices.

“We just thought it was just gonna be a two-week spring break and then here we are in December of 2020 looking at 2021,” West Linn High School senior Payton Henry said.

When Oregon shut down last March, the choir effectively stopped too. Online engagement was sporadic at best. There was no state championship for the first time; West Linn had tied for first the previous year.

Director of choirs Aubrey Patterson spent the summer bouncing ideas off other local high school choir teachers, dedicated to making online school work. Patterson said this year, online engagement is way up.

It’s not the senior year Henry or her peers in West Linn’s Fresh Pitch choir were expecting. Instead of concerts and competitions, they’ve been practicing over Zoom, combatting lag times and other technical difficulties.

“It’s definitely fun to be halfway through a warmup and get kicked out of my Zoom class,” choir president Brigitte Chenevert said. “But otherwise it’s an interesting experience.”

Late this fall, a group of 10 of the students were finally able to sing together in person. Patterson spaced out traffic cones in the school parking lot, students donned their masks, and they practiced.

“It’s kind of silly because we’re so far away, but it’s like a little bit of that sense of connection and community and singing together again, which we miss so much,” Patterson said.

“It was nice to be able to sing with people,” junior Ben Scott said, adding that choir has the kind of connection that’s hard to replicate online.

Students only got to do a couple of outdoor singing sessions though, before Gov. Kate Brown ordered another round of restrictions in November. Despite the constant ups and downs, Patterson said her students have rolled with the punches.

“There have been a lot of losses,” she said. “I just keep looking to my student leaders for their positivity and grace and we keep bringing each other through it.”

They didn’t see each other again in person until last week, when a small group went caroling through the neighborhoods around downtown West Linn. The streets were largely empty, but the occasional onlooker poked their head out of a front door. Volunteers unloading boxes in front of the West Linn Food Pantry cheered after the teens sung “Pat-a-pan.”

“Feels good to have an audience again,” Patterson said.

No one knows when they’ll be able to go back to school, but in the meantime, Chenevert is chronicling their progress on social media, and everyone is doing their best to stay connected.

“Being there with my classmates in Zoom and with Ms. P it’s been really nice especially for like our mental health,” Henry said. “The choir at West Linn is definitely a community.”

Choir students sing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” over Zoom (Courtesy West Linn High School Choir/Instagram)

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