By Elizabeth Heine — Thursday , May 29, 1997

Show at Linden High will whisk concert-goers world-wide on voices of children and adults

[News Article] Linden High School's auditorium will be the starting point next week-end for a trip around the world - a musical journey that will be conducted by the Celebration Singers and Celebration Children's Chorus.

"We're creating a whole environment for the audience, " said Tom Pedas of Roselle, who directs both choral groups. "As soon as people enter the auditorium, ushers, posing as flight attendants, will escort them to their departure gate."

Performances of "Around the World in Song" are scheduled for June 7 at 8 p.m. and June 8 at 2 p.m. As each show opens, Pedas said, sound effects will create the illusion of a plane taking off. And throughout each performance, the flight attendants will announce which country the audience will visit next and introduce each song.

The adult chorus will open the concert with a sacred Russian song, followed by a humorous Norwegian folk song, a Hungarian Gypsy song and " Danny Boy," an Irish ballad. The group also will sing songs from Italy, Israel and South Africa, while the children's chorus will perform songs from Japan, Korea, Russia and Mexico.

Some of the songs will be sung in the native languages. For example, the adult chorus will sing the South African national anthem in Zulu and a Gypsy song in Serbian. The children's chorus will sing in Japanese and Korean.

Members of the children's chorus also will perform Russian, Mexican and Serbian dances that were choreographed by Cheri Gonor of Linden.

"All of the dances are great, but the Russian dance is going to be a real show-stopper," said Pedas.

"We plan to take our audience around the world, and then back to the United States," Pedas said. The show will conclude with the adult chorus singing some Broadway tunes, including a "West Side Story" medley and a few songs from "Jekyll and Hyde." The adult and children's choruses will sing the final two songs together - "I Am But a Small Voice" and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

"We're hitting on some countries that have had a lot of turmoil in our lifetime," Pedas said. So we end the concert with a message of peace to tie the whole thing together."

The Celebration Singers is comprised of 30 members, ages 18 through 60, from throughout New Jersey, including Morristown, Jersey City, Long Branch and Bernardsville. However, the largest contingent is from Union County.

"The Group is made up of people who love to sing," said Rick Marsden of Roselle, president of the Celebration Singers and a chorister for 17 years - longer than any other member. "Without the group, there wouldn't be much of an opportunity to sing the kinds of songs we get to sing."

The group was founded in 1938 as the Esso Choristers, the company choir for the Standard Oil Company (which became Exxon) in Elizabeth. When Exxon stopped funding the chorus in 1979, the majority of its members were not even company employees. It was then adopted by the township of Union and became the Union Choristers until 1980, when the group became a nonprofit independent organization and adopted its present name. It is funded in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Pedas, who teaches music at Hillside Avenue School in Cranford, has been the group's director for the past two years. Last year, he formed the Celebration Children's Chorus to provide children with "tuition-free choral experience and an opportunity to do a higher level of singing than they can do in their own schools," he said. The 45-member group is open to children ages 9 through 13.

"We are a unique group in that the children's choir is an extension of the adult choir," Pedas said. "Though there are many individual adult and children's choruses throughout New Jersey, no other children's chorus is sponsored by an adult chorus."

Lori Theiss of Clark, the only woman singing tenor with the adult chorus, called the formation of the children's chorus "a huge plus" for the Celebration Singers." The fact that it's intergenerational creates more excitement for the audience," said Theiss, who has been with the chorus for almost four years.

George Lachenauer of Roselle, the Celebration Singers' accompanist for the past eight years, agrees. "The children are a great addition, " he said. " The two choruses provide a more diverse range of voices, as well as add to the variety of the performance."

Many of the children say they joined because they love to sing. Louis Panico, 11, of Linden, Carlos Nicasio, 9, of Rahway and Moly Frieri, 13, of Cranford said they consider themselves fortunate to belong. Erica Campbell, an 11-year-old from Rahway, said, "I love to sing, so this is a really happy place to be."

The group practices at the Cranford United Methodist Church and performs about 10 concerts throughout the year. Many of those are given at nursing homes, hospitals and senior citizens centers.

"We like to spread goodwill," said Pedas. "So we run benefits for people in need."

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Tom Pedas, The Celebration Singers and Children's Chorus


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