By Dawn M Chiossi
Music, it is all around: At this time of the year especially, people hear festive carols, and other favorite melodies. During this holiday season, and perhaps more than any other time of the year, people can’t help but think of music sung by a choir. In churches or in concerts, there is nothing more beautiful than voices raised in song.
Setting the holiday to music, the Morris Knolls Madrigals Choir from Morris Knolls High School is a prime example.
On Saturday December 1st, these hard working and passionate musicians received a gift that will last for a lifetime: They sang at the White House in Washington D.C. for their 2018 Holiday Event.
According to Choir Director Michael Semancik, this impressive choir boasts of an elite 30 member voice ensemble made up of juniors, seniors, and one sophomore. They are a mixed ensemble of men and women, a mostly A cappella group in their musical style.
The Madrigals are just one of seven choirs at Morris Knolls.
Passionate regarding the choir and music in general, Semancik has been choir director for all of them at the high school for approximately 11 years. Semancik mentions that he had always loved music from playing the trumpet and being in his school choirs when he was younger, all the way through his University years and beyond. “Music has always been my thing,“ he shares. “It’s in my blood.” But it was his love of choir music and the interpersonal communication of it that really captivated him. “It spoke to me,” he says simply.
It was that something that he wanted to share with his students.
“I want to instill a love and appreciation of music and singing for my students. To make it part of their lives for a lifetime.”
Applying all the way the way back in September for this honor to sing at the Holiday Event in Washington D.C., Semancik explains that the selection process for it is very extensive; He even had to send in recordings of the Madrigals, and had to write out a narrative of as to why they wanted to sing at the White House.
“I wrote quite a bit and really put my heart into it,” he remarks.
Semancik discloses that he had applied for the Madrigals to sing at the White House twice before in the past, but had been rejected. “This time, I didn’t tell the kids what I was doing. I didn’t want to get their hopes up.”
As such, his persistence paid off, and the choir members received the surprise of their lives when the invitation to sing came on October 26th. The students were elated. When asked about their reaction, Semancik says, “You have no idea, they just couldn’t believe it! It was pretty exciting.”
After the invite, the real work began. The Madrigals had to put together two hours worth of music in just four and a half weeks. Diligent and creative, Semancik can’t say enough regarding the students: “They put so much time into this, singing for three hours, three nights a week, and Sundays for rehearsal, singing with heart. They sang with such style and grace.”
When asked about the feedback regarding this event, Semancik remarks that it was “awesome.” In fact, Morris Knolls High School and the community showed an outpouring of support for the choir and their White House concert.
“They even set up fundraisers and a GoFundMePage so we could go,” Semancik relates proudly. “it was just incredible.”
Putting together a concert of 14 songs, Madrigals sang carols including, “The First Noel” arranged by Don Forrest, variations on Jingle Bells, and Twas The Night Before Christmas, complete with choreography.
“It is a gorgeous arrangement,” Samancik enthuses.
To perform in such a venue is perhaps a once in a lifetime event, but for Semancik the magic actually happened twice! Amazingly, Semancik shares that he had once performed at the White House with his college choir back in 2001. “It was such a cool opportunity to be there again,” what he calls, “a full circle moment.”
In addition to singing at the White House, The Morris Knolls Choir took the opportunity on that weekend to perform at Denville Community Church on Thursday, Nov 29th and the Milford Mill United Methodist Church in Maryland, on Nov 30th, places that were special to Semancik, places where he sang growing up and as part of that full circle.
As for the White House, Semancik says that even though he and the choir did not get to see President Trump, as he was in Argentina, of all of the people and officials they met, in all of their travels, told them how much they enjoyed the talented choir.
“I am so proud of my students, to give the gift of good music and share it with other people,” “Just think how many Christmases they made for so many people,” he enthuses.
But there was one moment that stood out in his mind the most regarding this whole amazing experience: When the Madrigals choir stood in the same spot in the East Room performing; Semancik had a sense of déjà vu.
“I had been in that room before, in that same place when I performed with my own college choir back in 2001,” he shares. “It was breathtaking.”