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Singing brings Oakland Mills community together

Oakland Mills High School senior John Dean didn't join the school's choir until his junior year — a decision he now describes as a mistake he hopes younger students interested in singing don't make.

This week, he and fellow choir members will have a chance to influence younger singers, as Oakland Mills takes the lead role in the Oakland Mills Community Choral Festival, scheduled for Wednesday.

For the second year, the school is organizing the festival, which enables its choir to perform with groups from neighboring elementary and middle schools, combining hundreds of voices from students in grades five through 12.

Students from Atholton, Jeffers Hill, Talbott Springs and Thunder Hill elementary schools, Lake Elkhorn and Oakland Mills middle schools and Oakland Mills High School will perform together in concert Wednesday evening at Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia.

County schools Superintendent Renee Foose is scheduled to serve as the master of ceremonies for the event.

Dean, 17, said the festival is a good way for the elementary and middle school students to connect with the choir program at the high school before they attend Oakland Mills. He had previously played percussion in the school's band but joined the choir after hearing his brother, who was a member, rave about it.

"I really wish [the festival] was around when I was in middle school," he said. "The [choir] classes are intense, but fun."

Dean participated in the festival last year and said the high school choir members enjoyed interacting with younger students.

"It was really good to hang out with them and bring smiles to their faces," he said.

Rebecca Elpus, choir director at Oakland Mills, serves as one of the main organizers and chief promoters of the festival. She also hopes it encourages elementary and middle school students to continue their musical education — especially when they see older students pursuing choir with enthusiasm.

"They get the opportunity to see what a high school choir is like," she said. At last year's event, "there was great leadership coming from the high schoolers. They really went out of their way to connect with [the younger students]. ... We were all connected that day through music and through performing together."

The day of music actually begins early, as the choirs join for a rehearsal in the morning. Then they reconvene in the evening for the concert for family and friends. For the performance, each choral group will have the opportunity to perform a selection of its choice and the show will culminate with a song by all singers.

More than 400 students are expected to participate this year — a bump from approximately 380 students the year before, Elpus said.

She said the response from students, family members and administrators has been so positive that the school intends to make the festival an annual event, creating a camaraderie between the students and potentially paving the way for students in the lower grades to see how choir can play a part in their high school experience.

"The whole mission here," she said, "is for the community to come together."

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