By Debbie Adams
Undeterred by the challenges of the pandemic and restrictions on crowd size, students from the Susan Lewis Music Studio presented not one group concert this Christmas, but eight “mini-concerts” which included over 30 of her voice and piano students. The Christmas event was held at the Vinton War Memorial on December 13.
Lewis covered all the CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidelines in organizing the event.
“We had to divide students/guests into eight groups of 25 and are so thankful we did not have to cancel this event after all of my students’ hard work,” said Lewis. “Masks were worn by all guests as well as the students when they were not performing. Vocal students used disposable microphone covers. COVID cards were filled out by all who attended.”
“My students’ families and I are so thrilled that we were able to actually have our 2020 Christmas Performance ‘in person,’ safely!” said Lewis. “The Vinton War Memorial was an elegant, beautifully decorated venue for our event this year. Having the Christmas Performance (as well as continuing their one-on-one lessons) represents some sense of normalcy for my students–especially with everything that has been taken away from them recently.”
“The key to 2020, described in musician’s terms is the word, ‘improvise,’ from embracing virtual/online lessons, to having our spring recital videography performed and recorded in my music studio, then put on my YouTube channel (as essentially a “virtual” event), to our Christmas Performance in small groups,” Lewis said.
The “mini-concerts” got underway at 2 p.m., each featuring three to six performers.
Lewis teaches both piano and voice to students ranging in age from early elementary school through adult. Many of her students take both voice and piano, but they were asked to choose to perform one or the other for the holiday concert.
“Each student performed one piece, but those who take piano as well as voice, will play a piano solo as well as a vocal solo in the spring recital,” Lewis commented. “The past few years our Christmas Performance had been held at Elm Park Estates Retirement Home, and due to a time limit, the students have chosen either a piano or vocal song to share at Christmas.”
The Christmas Performance, as always, included a wide variety of holiday tunes, both religious and secular.
Mini-concert Group #1 featured Rylee Warren singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” Aubri Kessler singing “Last Christmas,” adult student Beth Warren in a piano duet with Lewis, playing “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and college students Madison Saunders playing “Blue Christmas,” and Tes Smith singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Lewis accompanied Rylee Warren and Smith on the piano.
Group 2 included Jayda Baldwin (accompanied by Lewis) singing “When Christmas Comes to Town,” Sofia Gonzalez singing “Where Are You Christmas?” and Andrea Gonzalez playing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
Performing in Group 3 were pianists Carlyle Cierascynski playing “I Saw Three Ships,” Liam Cierasynski playing “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” Kathryn Dodson playing “Jingle Bells,” Kendall Dodson playing “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and adult student Kelly Ronan singing, “Hallelujah.”
Group 4 included Nolan Ferguson playing “Silent Night,” Emily Mower playing “We Need a Little Christmas,” Chloe Hopkins playing both “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” on the piano and “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” on the violin, accompanied by Lewis. College student Lexi Williamson sang an original composition, “First Christmas.”
Group 5 students performing included Deon Saunders playing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and Skylar Thompson singing “Show Yourself,” accompanied by Lewis.
The sixth group was made up of a new adult student Amanda Morris playing “Mary Did You Know?” Abby Booth playing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” and Ryleigh Woolwine singing a rollicking “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
Students in mini-concert #7 were Cary Jones playing “Carol of the Bells,” Latriva Pierce playing “Far Horizons,” and Abby Shelton singing a magnificent “O Holy Night,” accompanied by Lewis. Pierce has been taking voice lessons from Lewis for several years but elected to play the piano piece this year although she has been taking lessons for just a short time.
The final group to perform included Emily Hall playing “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” Lily Sealey playing “Joy to the World,” Paul Sealey singing “Sleigh Ride,” Allie Watson playing “What Child Is This?” Simon Sealey singing “Mary, Did You Know?” and college student Oliver Sealey singing “Nun Wandre, Maria” which translates from the German to “Journey On, Now, Mary). He was accompanied by Lewis.
There were six students who “diligently prepared their songs,” Lewis says, but were unable to attend: Colter Dean, Scotlyn Leonard, Landon Hodges, Zach Baldwin, Nolan Cranwell, and Elizabeth Becker.
Lewis noted a few highlights from the concert including, “senior, Abby Shelton’s gorgeous soprano voice singing, ‘O Holy Night.’ Another was definitely college student, Tes Smith’s stunning musical interpretation of the classic Christmas song, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.”
“Lexi Williamson performed an original vocal song, ‘First Christmas’, accompanying herself at the piano. She wrote both the lyrics and the music and delivered it beautifully.”
“How unique is it that four siblings from the same family would take lessons? The Sealey family–Lily, Paul, Simon, and Oliver–are a highlight of my teaching week and each impressed the audience with their talent and variety of musical styles. Oliver is currently a music major at Old Dominion University’s Diehn School of Music.”
“A beautiful violin solo, played by Chloe Hopkins, one of my piano students, was a unique addition and enjoyed by all.”
“The most entertaining award would have to go to Ryleigh Woolwine, singing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, who literally did just that!”
“One of my newest adult piano students, Amanda Morris, was truly inspiring. In her gorgeous red gown, this beautiful young lady played “Mary Did You Know?” with true feeling and passion. She created an album on Facebook titled, ‘It’s Never Too Late’ saying, ‘I’ve wanted to learn to play piano my whole life. This year I finally gave myself a shot. I started piano lessons five months ago. First piano recital ever: 12.13.20. Age: 37.9999999.”
“Other new students performing with poise and confidence in their first recital were Emily Hall and Aubri Kessler.”
“I am so appreciative to these who contributed to such a successful, memorable experience for our 2020 Christmas Performance: Chasity Barbour and her Vinton War Memorial Staff, Greg Chewning our sound technician, Debbie Adams (Vinton Messenger) writer/photographer, and my three students who helped with the logistics and details of the entering and exiting of approximately 200 guests: Madison Saunders, Tes Smith, and Kelly Ronan.
Performance opportunities for students of the Susan Lewis Music Studio during a student year include: the Vinton Fall Festival (Vocal Students), the Christmas Performance, the Bland Music Scholarship Competition, and the Spring Recital.
Please check for photos of all the performers on the Vinton Messenger Facebook page.