Eighteen members of the Columbus High School Varsity Singers carol Wednesday at Leadership Plaza at the corner of College Street and Fifth Street South. Doug Browning, director of choirs, leads the group in "Carol of the Bells." The whole choir boasts about 35 members. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
December 23, 2017 10:11:21 PM
As the final note of "Carol of the Bells" faded, those listening at Leadership Plaza in downtown Columbus Wednesday morning showed their appreciation with applause. The Columbus High School Varsity Singers just may be getting used to it. Few groups have been busier this Christmas season.
After presenting a brief choral prelude Dec. 12 before the annual Columbus Sings "Messiah," the Singers went on to present a holiday concert with the school band two days later, then perform at Trotter Convention Center the following evening for the Night of Service Gala. On Wednesday, 18 members of the group were caroling at multiple stops in Columbus, spreading holiday cheer.
Getting out in the community is one way the Varsity Singers are attracting attention to Columbus High's choral program. After coming under the leadership of CHS Director of Choirs Doug Browning in mid-2016, it has expanded into the challenging realm of classical and fine art music.
The performance prior to "Messiah" raised the choir's visibility in front of capacity crowds in one of the most acoustically pristine venues in the area, Annunciation Catholic Church.
"I was overwhelmed with the response to their participation," said Browning, who is also music minister at Columbus' First United Methodist Church and director of the Starkville-MSU Symphony Chorus. He also conducts Columbus Sings "Messiah."
"I've always known Columbus was a very warm town. I've been here nine years, and there's a reason why," he said. "We've had so many people telling me, calling me, writing me saying how much they enjoyed the students' participation. Having them be presented at such an important event really gave notice to the community that we are working hard, and we're available."
Two Varsity Singers -- Jake Browning, Doug Browning's son, and Alex Davis -- even sang in the actual Columbus Sings "Messiah" chorus Dec. 12. Their conductor hopes even more students will take part in that accomplished area-wide choir next December.
Davis, 17, said, "It was very fun, and because there were two performances, it was fun times two. It was so enjoyable being around other people that sang so well."
Jake Browning, 15, was 7 or 8 years old when he first attended Columbus Sings "Messiah." His family had recently moved to Columbus, and it was his father's first time to conduct it here.
"Singing in it for the first time this year really put it in a new perspective for me, instead of watching it from the pews," he said.
Of the Varsity Singers' group performance beforehand, he said, "I was not expecting the response we got; it was fantastic, and my dad is still getting calls."
The senior Browning particularly recalled the high school students' "Carol of the Bells" that evening.
"It gave me a chill. My eyes teared up. They had never heard their voices in a beautiful acoustic setting like that," the director said. After their performance, the students were able to hear the high quality choral and orchestral presentation of "Messiah." Browning hopes such experiences inspire the teens as the CHS program goes forward.
Main goals this academic year have included getting the Singers in concert dress uniforms, which they should have this spring semester, Browning said. He also wants to pursue opportunities for the students to perform for adjudication.
"Singing for judges really causes them to give that extra amount in choir. They've really enjoyed the Superior trophy they won last year in competition."
CHS freshman Kinnedy Johnson, 14, is in her first year with the Varsity Singers. She will never forget performing before the presentation of "Messiah."
"I thought it was great the way our voices echoed in the room and made us sound like it was 100 people," she said. " ... We are doing a wonderful thing at school and want everybody in Columbus to hear what we're doing, seeing that we're doing a positive thing in the community."
The Christmas season has put a spotlight on the choral program, but it doesn't stop there. Soon, the choir will present musical programs to coincide with Black History Month. In April, they will be featured entertainment at the Junior Auxiliary Charity Ball, not to mention tuning up for competitions.
"I see great things happening, not just in our program, but across the board," Browning said. " ... Columbus welcomed them so warmly. ... The community is ready to support positive things that come from our schools."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.