St. David’s Anthem choir sings, dances, acts with ease

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It’s warm-up time in the music room, where delicate harmonies, rich bass and clear treble are coming from Anthem, the show choir group at St. David School in Southern Arizona.

“Just the national anthem will be fine,” director Daniel Tenney tells his students gathered in a semicircle.

Mirrors line the large classroom. In the center, there’s a grand piano; in one corner, audio equipment.

Once they start, the sopranos hit the highest notes with ease, baritones round out the multi-harmonies and tenors fill the spaces in between. It’s like second nature to the members of Anthem, and they have the awards to prove they’re on the top of their game.

Anthem has received best showmanship, best musicianship and first-place awards in competitions, Tenney says. The group has traveled as far as New York City, but it also performs often at home in the St. David School gymnasium.

 

The group’s members know how to put on a show. They dance, sing and even do a little bit of acting.

The St. David School has 330 students from kindergarten through eighth grade and 150 students in grades nine through 12. Most of the students in Tenney’s Anthem are high school age and have been taking music classes with him for years.

Tenney, 29, a full-time staff member at the school who teaches choir and band, writes and produces nearly every song Anthem performs. He was born and raised in St. David and earned a music education degree from the University of Arizona before moving to Maine, where he met his future wife, Megan.

The two moved back to St. David in 2006 when Daniel was hired by the school as a music teacher.

“Most show choir directors pull music from catalogs, but Daniel has written and arranged the majority of Anthem’s repertoire since he took the job,” says Megan, 27, who volunteers to help out and choreographs all the dance routines for the choir.

“This is our sixth year of working together,” she says.

Megan’s dance background comes from her years at the University of New Hampshire, where she earned a degree in musical theater in 2005.

The students seem to love the Tenneys.

“I feel like they’re my family, you can tell them anything,” says Cody Hays, a sophomore. “They really care about any problems or concerns you have, not just with your schoolwork but problems you run into in life.”

Cody was one of the students who accompanied 10 others on a week-long trip in June to New York, where they performed as part of MakeMusic, an annual arts festival that takes place at various venues around the city. Students’ parents paid for the trip.

“We performed our own original music in Central Park and took part in the amazing culture and vibrant feel of the city,” Tenney says.

Sheradee Lee, a former student who went to New York with Anthem, wrote in a note to Tenney, “New York City put my dreams in perspective, and to be honest I’ve been living my dream. It took me being in the city to realize that.”

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Back in St. David, music and dance are being created, one line, one dance move at a time.

As the students circle around to practice a new routine, Tenney snaps his fingers, “…five, six, seven, eight,” and the dance they’ve been working on for only a week comes to life.

Hands fly up and everyone is smiling. The 20-member group, in unison, pauses in a freeze and then jumps back to life within four beats.

Anthem is supported by the students’ parents. Because the group is an after-school, extracurricular activity, it’s not funded by the school.

“Without the Arizona tax credit law, we would not have the program that we currently do,” Tenney says. “It would be wonderful if the state was willing to help us out more, but until then, we’re going to have to rely on our donors.”

Megan says her husband “is a truly talented composer” who “is passionate about what he does. He goes out of his way to give his students the best.”

Taryn Davis, a senior, agrees. “I couldn’t think of doing anything else,” she says.

Tenney says he’s been involved in choir since he was 10 years old and was part of the Arizona Boy’s Choir. “I’ve had so many great experiences with music, it only seemed natural to try to share those with others,” he says.

“The lights go on for these students and they get really excited. They ask questions and they understand things in a new way. I live for those moments.”

 

 

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