Volunteers help keep students safe during show
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The ornately-decorated Singing Christmas Tree put on every year by the Shores choir has gained attention for the impressive display and performance.
It takes a village to make the show possible. More than 75 volunteers are behind the stage for each performance to keep all of the singers in the tree prepared and safe throughout the entire performance.
The 32nd annual Singing Christmas Tree took place in downtown Muskegon at the Frauenthal Theatre, Dec. 1-3. This year, 5,904 tickets for the four shows sold out in 10 days.
The majority of the volunteers are parents, but choir alumni, other family members, grandparents, and friends of the choir also volunteer. Parents like Lisa Zuidema, a student supervisor for Tree, enjoy coming back every year to volunteer.
“I just think it is fun (to volunteer),” said Zuidema, whose daughter Ellie Zuidema, a junior, is in choir. “We are here to help them get ready for Tree, make sure their uniforms are set, hair is set, that their voices are ready and that they are relaxed and ready to go.”
Supervisors like Zuidema make sure students arrive in the correct attire: black shoes and socks and their choir uniform, hair pulled back and no jewelry showing. Students are constantly coming up to the supervisors to get vitamin C drops, bobby pins, hair ties, candy, Jolly Ranchers, Lifesavers and pins for their uniforms.
Students engage in a myriad of activities backstage. From singing and practicing the 20 songs in tree, playing cards, socializing, playing board games, eating, doing homework, doing each others hair, to even decorating ugly sweaters, students are busy during their downtime before the show.
Students typically arrive for the show by 6:15 p.m. and do not leave until around 9:30 p.m., so they have about an hour to wait backstage before the hour and 45 minute performance. While students are preparing for their performance backstage, parent volunteers help the performance run smoothly. Before students file into the tree, volunteers, like choir mom Theresa Vredeveld, place white overlays over their uniforms.
“When I first volunteered for Tree, I worked in the overlays,” said Vredeveld, who is the volunteer coordinator. She is also the mother of junior Trenton Vredeveld. “I was the last person the students saw before they got into the tree. I could wish them luck before they performed. Sometimes, the students are nervous, and they can look to you as a volunteer for reassurance.”
Students in the tree are put at ease by the tree monkeys, parent volunteers behind the tree with water and emergency supplies if a student needs to come out of the tree for any reason. At the “angel spot” at the top of the tree, a trained firefighter or climber keeps the top rows secure. For the past six years, firefighter Ben Chartier has been the one at the “angel spot.”
“I am normally at the angel spot, making sure that everyone at the top is safe,” said Chartier, who was replaced this year by Bob Lee, a climber and dad to choir student Helen Lee, a senior. “I can lower them down on a rope pulley if needed.”
Chartier said he is used to the height and is comfortable at the top of the tree.
“Being up there hanging up in my harness, I feel in my element,” Chartier said. “I know I can help any kids get down from the tree if need be.”
If any student does need to exit the tree, there are nurses behind the stage to tend to any need they may have. Head nurse Rita Chandonnet said that on any given night they could have up to nine students come out of the tree.
“Usually, we ask students why they came out of the tree, we observe any symptoms they are having, and give them water, pop or crackers depending on what they need,” Chandonnet said.
Throughout her nine years of volunteering at tree, Chandonnet has experienced some especially challenging situations.
“One year, when we had the old tree, there was a really tall guy, around 6-foot-3, who was standing next to a 5-foot-2 girl,” Chandonnet said. “He passed out while still in the tree with his waist at the railing; the girl next to him was trying to help him get out of the tree because he was already passed out.”
Luckily, Chandonnet said the boy woke up and got out of the tree by himself.
For the volunteers, the hope is that everything goes smoothly because the performance is a positive experience for everyone. Enjoying the concert from the other side of the tree starts Chandonnet’s Christmas season.
“Once the tree starts, there is the spirit of Christmas,” Chandonnet said. “(Volunteering for tree) gives me hope and faith in mankind.”