PIQUA — When the yuletide season descends upon Piqua High School, cookies and carols go hand in hand. That’s right, folks, it’s time for the music department’s annual cookie walk and holiday concert.
Now in its 17th year, the cookie walk will offer a smorgasbord of savory, satisfying sweets, followed by the sweet sounds of seasonal songs during a musical tradition that dates back more than 30 years.
The events take place on Sunday, Dec. 10, with the cookie walk starting at 1 p.m. in the commons area, and two concerts — one at 2:30 p.m. and another at 4:30 p.m. — being performed in the Hartzell Center for the Performing Arts.
The cookie walk will last throughout the first concert and before the second concert until approximately 5 p.m., according to Tom Westfall, director of choirs at PHS.
Westfall credits a fellow teacher friend for inspiring him to start the cookie walk at PHS.
“She did one at her school, then she did a workshop about them, how to do them, how it all works. I attended that workshop and then when I was hired here at the high school, I suggested we start it, and it’s been going along ever since,” he said.
Each choir student is responsible for providing five to six dozen cookies, which are sold for $6.50 per pound at the cookie walk, Westfall said.
“They are given a really explicit instruction sheet. Nothing can be store-bought, everything has to be handmade. I encourage them to get really creative,” he explained.
“We’ve had Rice Krispie snowmen and Nutter Butter reindeer … one-of-a-kind cookies. There are people who come out just for the cookies, though I would encourage them to stay for the show.”
The goodies aren’t limited to just cookies, he added.
“There’s all kinds of cookies, brownies, and chocolate everything. The homemade buckeyes go really quickly. And we replace them constantly; once a tray is gone, we replace it with a new tray, so everybody gets new things to choose from. It’s a wonderful tradition.”
Westfall expressed gratitude to all the students, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other bakers who spend their time creating the tantalizing treats, which raise money to help to offset the cost of the holiday concert, an elaborate endeavor that Westfall said is his favorite concert of the year.
“Inside the auditorium is turned into a winter wonderland of sorts every year. This year’s theme is ‘Be the Light,’ so it will be full of lanterns and candles and lights. The look of it is very Charles Dickens,” he said.
The lanterns and other decorations were created by Kim Hampshire of GeNell’s Flowers in Piqua.
“It was Kim’s idea that we offer the lanterns to the parents, so we sent out a flyer at the fall concert so they could order them,” Westfall said. “Thoma’s is making placards with ‘Holiday Concert 2017’ and the students’ or their their families’ names on them, so the family will have a memento of that year. It’s really cool.”
All of the school’s choirs will be performing at the concerts, which open with a mass number featuring all 250 students. Musicians will include the Gotham City Brass Quintet, local violinist Paul Hrivnak, organist David Broerman, and choral accompanist Carol Palmer.
“We are blessed in this town to have amazing adult musicians who are willing to share their time and talents with the choir and the community,” Westfall said.
Up first is the women’s chorus singing such numbers as “December Rose,” accompanied by Hrivnak, and Benjamin Britten’s “This Little Babe.” The men’s chorus will follow with a piece featuring brass, two songs including violin, finishing up with a comedy number, “The Biggest, Brightest Holiday Lights,” which takes a trip around town to look at Christmas lights.
The Company, the school’s show choir, will perform pieces including “Grown-Up Christmas List” and “Carol of the Bells,” and the concert choir will do a candle processional from the audience to the stage, where they will sing their versions of the “First Noel,” along with Hrivnak, and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” accompanied by Palmer.
“With each choir, there are pieces about candles and lights,” Westfall noted. “Everybody has that connection to the theme of ‘Be the Light.’”
The show will culminate in the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” during which alumni and other audience members will be invited onstage to sing along, Westfall said.
Westfall encourages people to come out and enjoy the abundance of talent to be found in Piqua’s youth.
“So often, we’re inundated with the bad things kids are doing,” he said. “These kids just want to share their music with the community — and you don’t have to pay a thing to come in and enjoy the shows.
“It’s an hour and a half of glorious singing that you can’t get anywhere else for free.”
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3341