As snow gathers on the ground and Christmas approaches, students from all levels prepare for their performances of A Festival of Carols. Accompanying the adults on stage are dozens of junior-high singers from around the Goshen area: Shout for Joy, the Community School of the Arts’ choral ensemble for grades six through eight.

Sandy Hill, in her 16th year as Shout for Joy director, said she loves working with kids in junior high: “I feel a calling to work with this age group, and I really enjoy inspiring them and motivating them and learning all this music with them.”

Members of the choir share Hill’s enthusiasm.

Thomas Baldanzi Schlabach, a third-year member from Goshen, said, “I’m excited about being in a concert — that’s just fun — and specifically this concert … you get to be a part of big combined pieces with a bunch of people which is cool. I’m a little nervous about ‘Noel’ because it can be kind of hard to sing sometimes, but other than that not really.”

Lucy Stefaniak, a first-year member from South Bend, said, “I just like singing the harmonies. It’s hard to find places that have that.”

Ellie Hannah, a third-year member who makes a 55 minute commute each week from Niles, Michigan, said, “I love it all. … I love coming to choir. I look forward to it, it’s very fun.” When asked what her favorite part about singing in Shout for Joy was, she said, “The people.”

Amari Yoder, a third-year member from Goshen, said, “I’m really excited to sing with the college 

students. Singing together is just so fun and it just really brings a natural smile to everybody’s face.”

When asked how she manages a group of 55 junior high students, Hill said, “It takes a lot of planning. … I also have a lot of help.”

Matthew Hill, Sandy’s husband and professor of music at Goshen College, serves as accompanist and assistant. The ensemble also has a choral assistant, Cadence Lehman, who graduated from GC last spring with a music and secondary education major.

“It’s nice coming to 

a group where most of the kids want to be here,” Lehman said. “A lot of the students here like to be here and enjoy being a part of a group that knows what they’re doing.”

“It’s kind of the age range I vibe with — sixth through eighth grade,” Lehman said. When asked what the challenges as an assistant were, she said, “Having sixth through eighth graders.”

Sandy Hill said, “There’s a lot of positive energy. … I really strive to keep that channeled so that we stay serious about the music but also have enjoyment along the way.”

Lehman said, “They’re coming into their teenage years. … They want to socialize with their friends and get to know people from the many different schools.”

This year for A Festival of Carols, Shout for Joy will perform “Noel” composed by Todd Smith and arranged by Brad Holmes. The song is in Kituba, a language from central Africa.

“It’s a very exciting piece,” Hill said. “It has the djembe drum and a shaker. It’s a cappella, which means there’s no piano accompaniment or anything like that. It also has some movement in it, which is what we’re working on right now.”

Lehman noted that a lot of the teaching is “done by ear because there are different levels of music reading in this group.” There are some students “who maybe have never taken courses that teach them how to read music, so some of the students are really just learning by ear, whereas at a college level, most people can do sight reading.”

The ensemble will also join the GC choirs and symphonic orchestra for “Arise, Your Light Has Come” by David Danner as well as for several carols.

“It’s challenging for us because we have a fall concert as well,” Hill said. “Our fall concert was just [two weeks] ago, so we have been trying to simultaneously work on that and this. It’s always a little bit of a rush to fit in everything.”

“I have been spending a lot of hours on Festival of Carols,” Hill said. “You don’t think about all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. One of the big things for Festival of Carols is — I know it might sound kind of trivial — but it’s figuring out the seating chart. It’s always a little mind-boggling. … Everything has to be lined up correctly and getting all middle-school students to do that is challenging. I try to get that as organized as I can.”

“We’re so happy to be a part of this concert,” Hill said. “I think it’s a really unique opportunity for these students — not just the fact that we do it and we get to sing a song, but the fact that they get to collaborate with the college music students.”

GC will present the 20th anniversary of A Festival of Carols in Sauder Concert Hall on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 3 at 4 p.m.

With reporting by Phillip Witmer-Rich