Mallet choir brings holiday cheer to residents

Four years ago, David Speer decided the percussionists for the Frenship High School band should do more than perform in school concerts and contests.

Speer, the band’s percussion coordinator, selected Christmas tunes and arranged them for percussion, then took a group of about four seniors around to the administration building and some retirement homes to perform as the first mallet choir.

“It’s not just to get the kids out of class. They’re actually putting their musical skills to work,” he said.

This year’s mallet choir was made up of 10 students who visited and played on Dec. 14 for residents at the Garrison Care Center, Ventura Place and Carillon Senior Life Care Community.

The marimba carries the melody in most songs, which Speer arranged from piano music.

“(The songs) each have a little twist that makes it kind of unique to percussion,” he said.

Speer said this year’s group is a mixture of youth and experience.

“This year more than half the kids who are going, this is the first time that they’ve done it. It has actually been quite nice to get some new blood in there … that will be good in a few years because we’ll have a lot of kids who have a lot of experience with it,” he said.

The students don’t have much time to practice for the performance.

“We usually just put it together the week before and show up and practice a few times. There are several kids who have been sick this week, so it will be especially fun, because a lot of them will be reading stuff for the second time,” said Speer.

The group is not called a choir because the students sing, but because of the harmony of the instruments.

“It’s a choir because it’s set up just like the four parts of a choir. You’ve got your soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts,” he said.

Speer said he would like to see the mallet choir grow.

“Eventually it would be great to have everyone in the percussion department able to do this kind of thing because then we can do more than just Christmas tunes … Eventually we’ll have an actual touring group that could go out and make money for the school for our program,” he said.

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