Holiday Traditions: The Students Who Spread Holiday Cheer Through Sound

The holidays are upon us here in Wheeling, and Wheeling Park High School’s Festival of Sound is an annual tradition that always delivers a needed dose of holiday cheer. The Festival of Sound has become a locally-renowned performance featuring passionate, musically-inclined students and teachers who bring joyous holiday sounds to the ears of their family members and peers. If you haven’t had the chance to attend a performance, here’s a rundown of how WPHS students and teachers continue to spread holiday cheer year after year with this heartwarming evening of entertainment. 

Community Makes The Difference

The preparation for this holiday performance begins in October and continues through opening day, creating such magical pieces of joyous sound with their students that will last a lifetime as memories for all those who attend.  

With four hundred or more orchestra, band, and choir students taking to the stage, many outside organizations within the community pitch in to help accommodate the needs of the music department. For example, in 2017 Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church lent a hand by providing bells to be used during the performance. 

This year’s performance was also bolstered by support from the community to help create the Christmas magic, according to choir director Joyce Jingle. “C.A. House is our largest sponsor, along with Wheeling Hospital who has also given a generous donation. In addition, there are over 50 businesses in the area that have contributed as they are able. The community really rises to the occasion when we ask for their support,” said Jingle. “That is one reason we like to go out in the community to sing at places like the Rotary or Chamber of Commerce Christmas parade. It is a two-way street. We try to be visible in the community and they are there with support for us!” 

Students Make the Holidays Shine

This year’s Festival of Sound was held on Dec. 17 at the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School. While the stage was festively decorated with red poinsettias, it was the students that made the performance shine!

As a former WPHS student who was a part of the music department, I’m reminded of what my former teacher, Mr. Podolski, said in years past about the Festival of Sound: “The holidays are about feeling happy, being grateful and showcasing your talent for others to enjoy.”  

This sentiment is echoed by Joyce Jingle. “To see the students moving from one ensemble to another makes you realize not only their skill level but the student’s investment into this program,” said Jingle. “The magic that the audience experiences is the result.” It is moments that are like these where gifting someone happiness and an eventful evening with their families is a blessing, as some students are only able to give the gift of music this holiday season and receive a warm rush of love and feeling of accomplishment from the audience in return.  

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As a teacher that works behind the scenes, Jingle experiences the magic firsthand. “The awe I experience as a director is when my students take the stage, and at times when I stand in front of them amazed, reminding myself, that this beauty is coming from our kids.”  

While COVID-19 has upended many gatherings during the last two years, it didn’t stop these performers from making their debut on stage for the holidays this year. With public safety in mind, students and faculty members adapted to ensure that the show could go on. Band members were seen on stage with masks that had little slits in the middle of them, allowing for a spot for them to blow into their instruments, choir students had both clear shield masks and black surgical masks to allow for expression and movement of their mouths. Lastly, the strings had black surgical masks that went well with their tailored, long black gowns and tuxes. 

The WPHS Speech Team was a part of this year’s Festival of Sound celebration. They provided narrative introductions to help contextualize many of the songs performed by their peers throughout the show.

Although it may seem like a long performance to some, it is well worth sitting through. Each year the teachers switch up the program to include classical songs that we all know and love, while also including songs from different countries and cultures that encompass a variety of winter holidays. Incorporating such a diverse music selection is helpful for both the students and members of the audience, according to Jingle. “We try to educate the audience because we want them to understand what they are listening to. That is one reason we include narrative introductions to each song which are so beautifully presented by the members of our high school speech team – again, another collaboration!”  

As I sat through the rehearsal performance on December 17, my heart was truly touched by the magic of the season. The Festival of Sound is a wonderful holiday tradition that showcases talented musicians and brings a little bit of holiday cheer to the Ohio Valley. 

What’s your favorite holiday tradition? What local events do you most look forward to during the holiday season? Share with us by leaving a comment below!

Elizabeth Stanley is a 2018 graduate of Wheeling Park High School and a current student at the Community College of Alleghany County. She was raised in Wheeling by grandparents who supported and encouraged her to give back to her community. She has volunteered at the soup kitchen, daycares, and many youth organizations throughout the Ohio Valley. Writing has always been an outlet for Elizabeth. She especially enjoys sharing stories about her hometown and all of the beauty that people don’t always get to see. When she’s not in school or writing for Weelunk, she is running her photography business, Through The Lens Photography. Elizabeth currently lives in Washington, PA with her fiance, stepdaughter, and extended family.