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One year ago, Graham High School choral director Jennifer Wells was in the audience of a Foreigner concert when she caught a glimpse of her future.
A local high school choir joined the band onstage to sing “I Want To Know What Love Is,” creating a dynamic and unique performance that highlighted young talent and supported local school arts programs.
Wells was amazed. “That is the coolest thing,” she thought. “My choir would love to do that!”
Months later, she was forwarded a message from the radio station 96.1 BBB announcing, once again, that Foreigner would invite a contest-winning choir onstage with them.
It was fate. That very night, the Graham choir was scheduled to perform one of their favorite songs, the Stacey Gibbs arrangement of the spiritual “Wade in the Water.”
The emotional and complex harmony was the perfect entry to showcase the power and passion in the voices of this relatively small choir of 17 kids. They recorded the performance and sent it in.
After Wells’ choir was chosen as one of three finalists, the group learned that the winner would be selected through an online vote. “We sent the link to the school system, to family, to friends. We sent it to everyone,” Wells says.
Despite their efforts, the kids started to lose hope when time passed without news. But finally, Wells heard, and had to keep the secret until choral class when she could make the announcement to everyone. The time came and the kids gathered in their seats, only a little suspicious when their principal came in with a smartphone ready to ‘observe.’ During class, 96.1 BBB called and broke the news of the win; the room filled with euphoric, exhilarated cheers.
As with the choir Wells witnessed that inspired this journey, Graham High School choir will feature on the Foreigner classic “I Want to Know What Love Is” when the band plays at Walnut Creek this July.
“Now they like to introduce themselves as ‘the group singing with Foreigner,’” laughs Wells.
The group has sung in large venues before, but this will be the largest audience they’ve had. Wells is confident that excitement and joy, instead of nerves, will rule the day. She also hopes that while her kids make the most of their moment, the performance will shed light on the important impact of choir—and all school arts programs—which, she explains, is much bigger than the thrill of performing.
“It’s a family atmosphere in my room. It’s that support that allows them to experiment and be creative in a safe environment where it’s OK to fail, to make a mistake,” Wells says. “They support each other and they help each other to get better. It’s not always that way in the real world, or at your job; but in the arts, you can.”
As for Wells? Since the choir is so small, she’s been invited to sing alongside her students. It’s an opportunity she plans to embrace.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she says. “And, I’m shorter than the kids, so I’ll blend right in!”
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