For fans of Philadelphia radio station B101, the start of the holiday season each year means two things: 24/7 access to Christmas music on the radio and the station's annual Christmas Choir Competition. This year it has left even more of an impact on the Phoenixville area with a local choir placing in the contest.
Last week, the station announced the winners in Division 1, which comprises middle school and junior high school choirs, and the Phoenixville Area Middle School 7th and 8th grade chorus took home third place. Choir directors Amy Darby and Christine Trafford said the competition was an incredible experience for the students.
'We are very proud of the kids,' Darby said. 'They worked really hard. And we had a lot of community involvement.'
The community supported the chorus in a big way, with the Colonial Theater asking the community to vote for the chorus on its marquis during the contest and Gateway Pharmacy announcing it on its digital sign.
Darby said the school's choirs have been participating in the competition since 2010, when the directors received an email about it from B101. They decided to take a chance and try it out, figuring the students would get a lot out of it. That year, the 6th grade choir placed in the top three.
The third place school wins $1,000. In 2010, the school used its winnings to purchase performance attire. The directors said this year's winnings will likely go toward replacing more worn outfits.
The experience the kids get out of it remains the biggest perk, though, they added. A lot of work goes into preparing for and entering the contest.
'We sit down before the school year ends and just go through music that will really showcase the kids' talent,' Trafford said. 'We try to pick songs that we think will be expressive over radio. We tell the kids to pick songs that will be peppier.'
That process led the students and directors to settle on this year's tune, 'Getting in the Mood for Christmas,' a song originally by swing and jump blues band the Brian Setzer Orchestra that sets holiday lyrics to the tune of Glenn Miller's swing standard 'In the Mood.'
Once the song was picked, the chorus had to get the rights to perform the song and record it themselves.
'We've had professionals come in to record us to give the kids a great experience,' Trafford said. Giving the students the chance to see how songs are professionally recorded also made it educational, she added.
Many students seemed to agree with those sentiments.
'We had such an amazing experience from the B101 Choir Competition,' 8th grader Sam Dobson said. 'From the preparation and recording to the endless hours of voting, it was super fun.'
Willetta Wisely, another 8th grader, said she thought participating in the competition struck a balance between fun and learning.
'The B101 Competition is a great way for students to test their abilities,' Wisely said. 'The recording process was interesting and educational.'
And it has this impact on many students. Trafford said 244 students participated in just that one song, with over 300 contributing among all of the school's chorus groups.
Many of these students, like Dominic Sposato, a 7th grader, found an opportunity for growth in the competition.
'I think that the B101 Competition is a great way to get choirs to strive for greatness,' Sposato said. 'So when I found out that we got third out of all those choirs, I was proud of my school and myself.'