If you want to know the story of Valparaiso Community Schools – the REAL story – you’ll need to see and hear it through the eyes and instruments of the students. There is no better way to do that than to experience This Is Our Story, a festival of arts featuring music and artwork from students across the school corporation. This year’s 41st annual event did not disappoint.
The festival opened Dec. 9 and continued Dec. 10 at Valparaiso High School (VHS), with musical performances by Valparaiso High School wind symphony, symphony orchestra, concert choir, and women’s, men’s and mixed choruses; and the choirs, orchestras, and bands from Thomas Jefferson Middle School; Benjamin Franklin Middle School; and Cooks Corners, Flint Lake, Northview, Immanuel, Central, Heavilin, Memorial, Parkview, Thomas Jefferson, St. Paul, elementary schools.
“There are between 800 – 1,000 kids who participated this year,” Ann Riegle, music teacher at Valparaiso High School said. ”This night helps to keep fueling that excellent arts tradition, and keeping the creativity flowing for future generations.”
An art show was on display outside the gym, featuring various visual creations in multiple mediums by talented students of all ages.
“This is our story. This is Valparaiso. Everyone here is a part of this very special place and contributes to this every heartwarming experience.” said Master of Ceremonies Dr. Bonnie Stephens, Principal of Heavilin Elementary School.
The printed program for each evening featured a cover created by a student. This year, students from Mr. Ruiz’ Drawing 1 class at VHS submitted entries, and school students and staff voted on their favorites. The winning program covers belong to seniors Jillian Davison (Dec. 9) and Leiara L. Lara (Dec. 10.)
Art ranged from abstract, photo composition, portraits, realism, sculpture, and of course musical talents. There was a broad representation, and all forms were on display for parents and extended family to encounter.
This is Our Story began 41 years ago as the Valparaiso Community School Corporation adopted a mission to make the arts accessible to everyone. Banking on the belief that the arts are an integral part of a comprehensive education, This is Our Story seeks to enable students to recognize and appreciate beauty, to be more sensitive, more compassionate, and more understanding. In short – to be fully human, capable of enjoying and experiencing life as it is meant to be lived.
Parent Dave Brown said he feels that and event such as this one is a great way to get the community together during the holidays.
“We all walk out of here with a smile on our face, and really that is what this is all about.”
Musical selections from this year’s events included holiday favorites such as the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Let it Go from “Frozen,” Feliz Navidad, a Rollicking Hanukkah, Jingle Bell Rock, and others. Each night ended with a rousing holiday song singalong featuring Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Silver Bells, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
It was a joyous time as hundreds of voices varying ages came together in a unified chorus expanding across both sides of the packed gymnasium. Instruments craftily covered in holiday decorations projected a symphony of notes at the hands of talented young musicians. Sequins sparkled on hats and clothing as students hugged and laughed with each other. At the end of the performance, Santa arrived weaving through the crowd giving out high fives, hugs, and encouragement to everyone singing.
Senior Lilly Gillins, Valparaiso Varsity Singer, said she has participated since she was in 4th grade, and feels like it has been a whirlwind of a year for her. Her advice for the generations coming in for their first performance would be,
“Enjoy all the time you have participating in school choir and band, and look at who you want to become as an artist and go after that person.”