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1/16/2013 2:47:00 PM
Academy singers perform at White House
St. Mary's Academy photo
St. Mary's Marian Singers perform at White House
St. Mary's Academy photo
St. Mary's Marian Singers perform at White House

Christmas came early this year for the 47 students in St. Mary's Academy's elite Marian Singers. On Dec. 19, the choir enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of singing in the White House.

The students performed Christmas music in the stunning Grand Foyer for visitors touring 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The White House was resplendent with decorations reflecting this year's holiday theme, Joy to All. The White House features 54 Christmas trees this year, each a work of art.  

The invitation to perform at the White House was a great honor, said Kathy Briggs, director of choral music at St. Mary's Academy.

"I am so incredibly proud of them. It is a memory that will last their entire lives. I also feel that the Marians have really earned this. Along with excellent choral singing skills, it requires a high level of responsibility, dedication and professionalism to do what these young ladies do, and I am so happy that, as a result of their hard work, they are able to have opportunities such as this," Briggs said.

The Marians' trip sprung from a connection established last year, when Briggs participated in a teleconference with First Lady Michelle Obama and received an invitation to the 2011 White House holiday reception.

While at the reception, she saw a high-school choir performing and pursued the opportunity for the Marians, submitting an application and audio and visual clips. In early November, the coveted invitation arrived. The three-day trip to Washington, D.C., also included visits to several Smithsonian museums, the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial. It was made possible by a significant contribution from longtime supporters Mike and Tracey Clark, as well as other St. Mary's donors.

"It's definitely the most momentous experience of my life thus far," St. Mary's Academy senior Charlotte Umanoff said. "The White House is something you always imagine. As a child, it seems almost like a fairy tale. When you get older, it becomes more real but feels inaccessible. It became very accessible to us on this trip, and that was such a privilege."

Being at the White House during the festive holiday season made the experience even more special, said Makenzie Spiller, a senior at St. Mary's.

"It was like nothing I've ever experienced in my life. We're so grateful for this opportunity," she said.

The White House performance is a highlight in what is sure to be a banner year for the Marians. The group has been selected to perform at the National Association for Music Education's Northwest Division Conference in February at the Oregon Convention Center. The Marians were chosen from bands, choirs and orchestras, elementary- through college-level, as being one of the best performing groups in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Individually, two St. Mary's Academy students were selected for the prestigious 2013 Oregon All-State Choir, and six were selected for the All-Northwest Honor Choir. The students, chosen from among more than 5,200 applicants from throughout the five-state region, also will perform at the National Association for Music Education conference in February.

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