South County Beat: A.G. High choir tunes up for New York

Students in Chris Bledsoe’s a cappella choir class at Arroyo Grande High School were belting out the tunes to “Vincent (Van Gogh),” the song made popular by Don McLean.

They were practicing on a recent morning for a trip to New York City in April to perform at the Lincoln Center.

Dr. Randall Speer, a 1982 alumnus of Arroyo Grande High, now associate professor of music at Randolph College in Virginia, has invited the choir to participate. Speer will be conducting Schubert’s Mass in G Major.

The choir consists of 31 students from grades nine through 12. They will be working on fundraising for the event, which will cost about $2,000 per student.

Bledsoe has been teaching music at the school for 28 years. He began singing in junior high, and continued throughout high school.

He studied music at what is now CSU East Bay, where he supported himself by peddling singing telegrams, an idea he hopes takes off for his choral students.

“We’re one big happy family,” Bledsoe said enthusiastically.

He clearly loves his work: “I’m teaching music, what could be better than that?”

Singing is almost a meditation, he added. Students often come to him with problems. Two or three stopped after class to talk with him.

Bledsoe was working hard with his students. He picks music from all genres, working on breathing, phonation (production of sound), resonation (amplification of sound) and diction. He also teaches piano classes and an advanced-placement music theory class.

One student, Savanah Brewer, 16, of Nipomo, in her second year of choir, said, “I love choir! I look forward to it every day, and I couldn’t be more excited about New York!”

Kyle Compton, 17, of Grover Beach, is in his fourth year in the choir. He is very excited for “this amazing opportunity,” has wanted to go to New York for years, and “still can’t believe that we will be singing at the Lincoln Center.”

He continued, “I’m also thrilled that I will get to see my first Broadway musical in New York! There is nothing like hearing your own voice blend together with 20 other singers, creating rich harmony and resonance.”

Claire Harlan, 17, of Arroyo Grande, is in her second year of choir. She sings alto, “which is a challenge because instead of just singing melodies, I get to learn interesting harmony parts Being able to sing every day is a blessing, and because everyone in the class loves to sing, a great sense of community is formed.

“Everyone is genuinely happy to be in class, so we have a strong sense of camaraderie that makes for a lot of fun,” Claire said. “It’s magical to hear the way all the different voices blend together.”

Bledsoe and the students are excited to do the singing telegrams, where students will sing for events in the community, such as birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, and holidays such as Valentine’s Day.

By April 24, their fundraising efforts should have paid off to allow all the students to go to New York.

To donate, request a singing telegram, or for more information, contact Chris Bledsoe at 474-3200, ext 2150 or cbledsoe@lmusd.org.

Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.