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The music plays on: Nevada Union Choir to perform last show of the year

The Nevada Union High School Choir will perform its final performance of the school year tonight and third in-person performance since the COVID-19 pandemic affected school attendance and enrollment in the arts in March 2020.

“This will be our third large-scale performance,” Choir Director Rod Baggett said of tonight’s show, set to take place at 7 p.m. at the school’s Don Baggett Theater.

The show’s name, “I sing because,” is based off a song that will be performed by one subset of the 65-person student choir Baggett has mentored over the last nine months.



Rod Baggett’s 2021-22, 65-person student choir sang in the Don Baggett Theater for its winter performance in December.
Submitted to The Union

“It talks about how you sing because you breathe, because you’re alive, because the forest will continue to grow, there will still be birds in the sky,” Baggett said, adding that finding joy through music after “the gloomy time we’ve been through the last two years” is a testament to people’s necessary relationship with the arts.

Enrollment has fallen nearly every year since Baggett first started, but the issue was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.



“Our county’s demographics have changed a lot,” Baggett said. “I’ve been dealing with smaller and smaller classes for years. We’ve had different charter schools open up and declining enrollment has taken a huge toll.”

Further, Baggett said, the remote learning model was not an ideal teaching method for performing arts departments anywhere.

“During the last two years, not a lot of people did choir. It’s a struggle,” Baggett said, explaining that the arts budget is already generally more limited than what is provided to teach core curriculum. “We’re rebuilding right now. The arts community was hit hard.”

Baggett said because choir — and other art classes — are not requirements, the department is always at risk of getting funding cut. Baggett said performing arts is at an even greater risk than the fine arts because at least it appears more amenable to all personality types.

“More kids may sign up for drawing and painting because you’re not putting yourself out there,” Baggett said. “Fewer kids (want) to step out of their comfort zone to do something on stage in front of people.”

Whether or not they want to, Baggett said performing is something all students should be required to practice.

“It’s a skill everyone should have to do, but we treat it like only the people who are naturally talented should do it,” Baggett said.

For Baggett, recruiting a new class of performers means breaking preconceived notions about the self and one’s creative capacity.

“I think everyone should have the experience of performing on stage whether it be a drama or music or dance or all three,” he said.

Baggett’s choral class in 2008 was 250 students.

There will be 10 seniors performing tonight, some of whom took chorus for the first time their final year.

“They’re coming along,“ Baggett said of this year’s first-time singers in his class.

There’s no one size that fits best for a choir, said Baggett, but noted that this year’s group was significantly smaller than previous years.

“I’ve had really big choirs of the year, and if they’re really accomplished, you can do powerful stuff,” Baggett said. “Directing a nice, small, select group of students is a whole different art.”

Baggett said there is more pressure on each individual “to really do their best” in a smaller group of singers.

“You always bond, but when you know your contribution is really crucial because there’s not that many students, there’s a strong bond with kids,“ Baggett said. ”They give me hope, but it’s a stressful environment knowing you have to keep building and recruiting.“

FATHER’S ROLE

Baggett took over his father’s role of cultivating a robust singing troupe 27 years ago when he moved three kids of his own from Sacramento back to his hometown in 1997 to take over his father’s position as Nevada Union choir director.

Baggett took his first class of students to sing in Italy that year, but the choir had been building up its reputation and travel miles for decades under the stewardship of Don Baggett.

“The choir first started traveling out of the country in 1978 with a trip to Mexico,” Baggett said. “Then, since 1981, the choir has traveled every other year till 2019.”

Blake Yamauch is a graduating senior and one of two other students who was fortunate to travel with the choral group over the last four years, according to his mother, Joan Yamauchi.

“He had the full range of experience,” Joan Yamauchi said. “He was one of the students who was performing his part as an individual while Mr. Baggett was merging all the students’ voices … digitally to provide these concerts on YouTube, which was pretty amazing as a parent.”

Julie Moen, who is on the choir’s booster club board alongside her husband Rob Moen, has a daughter who is a junior choir singer at Nevada Union and a son who recently graduated who also traveled with the choir.

“My husband and I were both in the Nevada Union Choir,“ Moen said of her experience singing as a student in the late 1980s. ”We went to Europe together.“

Moen said she hopes the club will support the choir’s return to Europe, not next year, but the year after.

“The bonding of the choir students and the family that it makes is just incredible,” Moen said. “My daughter — her favorite school day is choir day.”

Moen said she’s helped kids with costumes for Madrigal Dinners, to support her daughter in the present, but also to acknowledge the family’s connection with the choral group at Nevada Union.

Moen said the choir’s legacy is “huge,” adding that her husband actually performed at the first-ever Madrigal Dinner hosted by the institution in 1985.

“For us to possibly lose choir and performing arts would be devastating,” Moen said, adding “music is such an important part of lives.”

Moen said the choir’s booster club meets the first Monday of every month.

“The booster club is important because it helps keep the program running. We’re able to fill in the budget where the school cannot.”

Baggett said he knows what he needs to do as the music plays on.

“The kids I have in class definitely give me hope,” Baggett said. “My goal is to get more in my classes. I love the kids I have. I hope I retain them.

“The ones that aren’t graduating — you make it a place they want to be a part of.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

KNOW & GO

Who: Nevada Union Choir

What: “I sing because” performance

When: 7 to 9 p.m. tonight

Where: Nevada Union High School Don Baggett Theater, 11761 Ridge Road, Grass Valley

To buy tickets: http://www.nuchoir.org/tickets/spring-concert-2022

Who: The Chamber Choir — 12 Nevada Union students in a larger choir

What: Dessert Concert

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 3

Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 1979 Ridge Road, Grass Valley

To buy tickets: http://www.nuchoir.org/tickets/dessert-concert-2022


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