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Murray Journal

Viewmont choir director puts down baton after 18 harmonious years

Feb 09, 2024 02:03PM ● By Julie Slama

Viewmont Elementary choir director Heidi Bates conducted her last school concert after 17 years. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Shortly before winter break, Viewmont Elementary students sat on the tile floor intently listening to their choir give its holiday concert.

Well, maybe not just listening. 

Second grader James Parker admitted singing along to “Deck the Hall” because “I knew it and liked it.”

His classmate Hadley Tueller knew “Hot Cup of Cocoa” because “I really like hot chocolate, and my fourth grade brother sings in the choir, and I’ve heard him sing it.”

Theo Stika, also in the second grade, liked the “Haunted Mansion Holiday Medley” from “Nightmare Before Christmas” with the multimedia show best, and now he wants to join the choir. 

“I want to bring joy to people,” he said.

For the past 18 years, Viewmont’s choir has delighted audiences under volunteer director Heidi Bates. This was her last performance.

Principal Jennifer King appreciated Bates’ dedication as well as that of her husband, Dave, who creates the multimedia shows, and her mother, accompanist Karen Kammerath.

“The time and dedication and the love of music this family brings to Viewmont kids is unmatched,” she said. “Every year, it’s different songs and a different theme. They volunteer, start in September each year and spend about an hour each Wednesday afternoon for about 10 weeks, introducing music to the children, and create a beautiful choir, which culminates with a concert that now includes a multimedia show, it’s simply amazing and beautiful.”

Viewmont’s choir program began in 2006 at the suggestion of then Principal Darren Dean. Parent volunteer Traci Black posted the request for a choir director.

Coincidently, Bates met Black soon after at a Taylorsville park.

“We realized we both had kids at Viewmont, so started talking about the school,” Bates said. “I mentioned that they were looking to start a choir, and I was thinking I might volunteer, but I was hesitant. She said, ‘I’m the one you’re supposed to talk to you,’ so it felt like it was meant to be. I have a degree in elementary music education from [Brigham Young University], but it had been eight years. She said that we could work together, and that’s how it started.”

Excited, Bates went to the music store to look through choir music.

“I wanted to do a Hanukkah song and a Christmas song every year,” she said. “I liked finding songs from different cultures. I wanted fun songs that the kids can remember like ‘Hot Cup of Cocoa.’ We did that the first year, too. They love that song.”

King is grateful for that.

“It’s fun to see the kids have this opportunity and for the Bates family to bring in songs with a bunch of different cultures and customs,” she said. “We have some English language learners who are soaking up the language as they’re learning these songs. There are some shy kids, so this is a great way for them to come out of their shells, have fun and get comfortable performing in safe avenue.”

That first year, there was an older elementary choir and a younger one. Bates and Black oversaw the younger choir all year. Since then, it evolved to just a fall choir performing a holiday concert.

“Most of the years, we did a third through sixth grade choir,” Bates said. “But in 2021, the choir just got too big with all the singers, so we scaled it back to fourth through sixth grade. Eighty-plus in the choir was a lot,” There are about 50 choir members this year.

Black served as the choir manager for nine years before moving to volunteer at Riverview Junior High and Murray High. Then, Bates found others to help manage the choir, such as Ellen Kenyon this year, as well as accompanists.

“Sometimes it was a teacher, a parent, our alumni, a neighbor,” she said. “One year, it was a sibling from one of the choir kids. When Mr. Dean moved on, other principals have supported us.”

Bates’ husband, Dave, got involved about five years ago.

“He projected some falling snow for ‘Still, Still, Still,’” she said. “Then, he started adding more each year. During COVID, he had all the parents videotape the songs that my co-director and I taught them on Google Classroom. Then, he edited the concert together. This year’s ‘Haunted Mansion Holiday Medley,’ he did a fun arrangement for the choir and added his projections. The choir loved it.”

One of her mother’s favorites is the final song, “My Christmas Tree.”

“It’s sung every year, and every year David gets a picture of each child and shows the picture in a video as I play and the kids sing; it’s always really touching,” Kammerath said.

Bates remembered how that song was added into each year’s concert.

“My family and my husband’s family are both very musical, so we would go caroling with his family every year,” she said. “One of the songs we’d sing is ‘My Christmas Tree;’ I really liked that song, so we decided to have the choir perform it acapella. But it wasn’t in print anywhere. I tracked down the publishers and wrote a letter for permission to sing it. This year, we asked alumni to come back and sing it with the choir and my oldest daughter joined in.” She added that all five of her kids have been a part of the choir program.

Bates grew up singing and playing violin alongside her two sisters at the mall at Christmastime. 

“It’s one of my favorite memories growing up. We’d play the harmonies together and it was just beautiful. There’s something magical about Christmas music. That inspired me to hold the concerts during the holidays. I wanted to pass that experience on to my children and other children,” she said. “It’s also neat personally because Mom was the accompanist then, and she was the one to take us to all our music lessons. So, it’s full circle and it’s fun to end this with her since she gave me the gift of music in my life.”

Bates got to share her talent on violin one year as she played alongside the choir when the school music teacher directed “A Candle for Peace.”

The last concert featured some of her favorite songs through the years, such as the Jewish folk song “Haida” and “Deck the Hall,” which is “a great partner song where they know one part and they learn the new part to sing it together so they can hear the harmonies,” she said, adding that skill will help bridge students’ music knowledge when it comes to perform with the junior high choir.

Fourth graders Amelia King and Annie Vannyhuis were excited to sing one last time together at the assembly.

“Our director is really nice and really fun, but I’m sad I only got to sing with her one year,” Amelia said.

Annie agreed: “I going to miss our director because she’s leaving us after teaching here years and years. She’s given a lot to the school, but I’m going to remember this year.”

During her tenure, Bates has directed 17 concerts—15 holiday concerts and two spring concerts—as well as a performance at the library and at a school district festival. 

While she wanted to thank everyone from her own music teachers to those who helped with the choir T-shirts and refreshments, going into the last performance, Bates remembers “wanting to savor it.” 

Her mother admits to crying during the previous evening’s performance.

 Their favorite part of the choir is the same. 

“When the children sing, and sometimes that happens in practice and sometimes in concert, there’s a moment where it’ll be pure, beautiful and I rejoice, getting to be there in front and listen to them,” Bates said. “It’s very emotional, and I realize how lucky I am that I get to do this.” λ