A longstanding tradition at West High School, “Singing Valentines” not only give students practice putting on a musical performance but it is a physical workout as well.
Sophomore Tess Kuenzi said that last year she wound up taking part at the last minute to fill in for a another student.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be that much work,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. I loved doing it but at the end of the day you were so tired.”
Kuenzi said she took 25,000 steps on that one day and climbed 81 flights of stairs.
“Even though it was a lot of work I wanted to do it again just because how much fun it was,” she said.
Part of the Midwinter Week at West, this year’s fundraiser involved 159 students divided into 19 groups of six to 12 students. Most of the students are in choir classes but there are a few others who get invited to join in. They spent Thursday roaming the school to deliver about 800 Valentines at $5 apiece.
Anthony Cao, choir teacher in his 15th year at West, said the Singing Valentines fundraiser was started in 1994 by then-choir director Eric Johnson and generally raises about $3,000 for the choir program. The money has gone to things like technology upgrades, guest musicians and scholarships for lessons or music camps. A long-range goal is raising money to go toward a new set of risers for the auditorium.
Cao said learning to harmonize and write arrangements by ear is a big part of the curriculum, so the students are seasoned before they start preparing the valentines.
“They pick their group, they pick the music, they write their own arrangements and they rehearse it,” Cao said.
The activity teaches the students how to collaborate and problem solve before they even get to the musical part, he said. Cao said the students operate fairly independently although he offers more help for the younger students. All groups “audition” their piece for Cao, who offers advice, and then come back to audition a second time. Occasionally, Cao turns down a group that just isn’t prepared.
Junior Rupert Miller said this was his first experience with the fundraiser after enrolling in the “popular vocal styles” class because he wanted to try something new. He said he often has to perform in front of others to get credit in class but delivering the valentines was still a challenge.
“It was nerve-racking at first,” he said. “Then I kind of got used to it.”
Freshman Ava Shager received a valentine during her geometry class from one of her friends and watched as others were delivered in each of her classes.
“It’s just fun for people to see all the different singers at our school and all the talent,” she said.
Other schools also offer singing valentines. Luke Hrovat-Staedter, who was a student of Cao’s, said the event was his favorite day of the year, so when he started working as director of choirs at East High School he wanted to start the fundraiser there. This is the third year at East, and students usually deliver between 250 and 350 Valentines each year.
“It is a great fundraiser for us, but it is an opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning in choir and apply it in a student-lead, real-life environment,” he said. “Most importantly, it is just fun. Teachers really support it, and the students have an absolute blast.”
Memorial High School students have performed singing valentines since 2013 but it is also on a much smaller scale than West, said Jamie Pitt, vocal/general music teacher and music department chairman.
At La Follette High School, a group of choir students started doing it just this year. It was led, organized and executed primarily by choir students, said Kevin Blakeslee, director of vocal music.
“It was very successful and the students who participated are extraordinary kids,” he said. “I’m super proud of them for doing it all on their own.”