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WJCC winter concerts brighten holiday spirit

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

Maryann Phillips waited for her granddaughter to emerge following Matthew Whaley Elementary School’s presentation of “The Nutcracker.”

Phillips said she was beaming with pride for her 8-year-old granddaughter, Aine Phillips, who played the leading role of Clara.

“I thought she was amazing,” Phillips said. “It makes me very proud.”

Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools’ winter concerts are in full swing during the next few weeks, meaning students will put on their best performances for teachers and families alike.

For Maryann Phillips, her granddaughter's yearning to perform led to a fulfilling surprise.

“When they were getting ready to do this, she told us she wanted to try out for Clara,” Phillips said. “And we thought, well, you know, OK. But the day that she found out, she got off the bus and … said, ‘I got it! I got it!’ ”

The 40-minute choral version of “The Nutcracker” featured all 83 Matthew Whaley third-graders, a handful of which had speaking parts. They began preparing during the first week of school, music teacher Julie Jones said

For “The Nutcracker” performances — Thursday afternoon and evening in the school’s auditorium — each third-grader with a speaking part had to audition, Jones said.

Matthew Whaley’s Parent-Teacher Association hired Adelle Carpenter, co-founder of the Virginia Regional Ballet, to choreograph the dances, and Linda Hertzler, a parent of a former student at the school, coached the speaking parts.

Two of Matthew Whaley’s teachers also played key roles in the production. Art teacher Robert Oppecker has played Judge Drosselmeyer since 2007, and computer teacher Kris Van Deusen has been the Mouse King since 2006.

“This is a treasured tradition,” Jones said. “Older students enjoy remembering their part when they were in third grade, and younger students start to dream about what they will be when they reach third grade.”

More to come

A few more school performances are on tap before the winter break.

James River Elementary School and Warhill’s band perform their winter concerts Tuesday. Stonehouse Elementary School is holding a school holiday singalong Wednesday.

If the earlier performances have been any indication, they’ll be energetic, lively and crowd-pleasing.

W-JCC schools Superintendent Olwen Herron took in many of the performances, including a trio of them at Matoaka Elementary School, Matthew Whaley and Warhill High School Thursday. She praised the concerts and performances as “fabulous.”

Practice, practice, practice

Abigail Neeley, who directed the Cardinal Crooners during Matoaka’s chorus performance, said her group practiced before school once a week.

“These kids are amazing and it’s neat, specifically with the band where they rehearse next to my classroom, and I get to hear them from day one and I get to hear this too,” Neeley said. “It’s really cool the way the chorus comes together. And orchestra is near and dear to my heart.”

Matoaka fifth grader Yona Hyman had a moment in the spotlight during her school’s holiday chorus, strings and band concert, performing the songs “Silent Night” and “Nocturne.”

Yona said she practiced for at least 30 minutes a day and felt challenged playing some songs on the harp because it takes a lot of different finger movements — and then there are the blisters she got from practicing.

She said her favorite part of performing was the compliments.

It gave her a feeling that “I did good, and I practiced for a good reason, and it wasn’t just practicing for nothing,” Yona said.

And she plans to keep playing the harp for a long time.

“I think I’m going to play probably until I drop,” Yona said.

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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