‘Holiday Hallelujah’ represents decades of SAHS choir performances

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In partnership with Limelight Theatre, musical director Jeff Dodd has assembled a chorus of approximately 100 singers who performed in his choirs during his 35-year tenure as a performing arts educator at St. Augustine High School.

Dodd will lead his past students, who are returning from near and far, in an inspiring concert of traditional, nostalgic and festive music that is sure to be a highlight of the holiday season.

Staged in the Flagler College Lewis Auditorium in downtown St. Augustine, a large holiday-themed concert is a first for St. Augustine’s premier community theater, said Limelight Theatre Executive Director Sherrie Provence.

“This is a new venture for Limelight,” said Provence, “to host a concert as part of our 31st season, but it may very well become a holiday  tradition.”

Dodd recently stepped into the role of musical director at Limelight Theatre, an alliance which Provence calls “a match made in heaven.”

Dodd distinguished himself in the St. Augustine community as the director of St. Augustine High School’s chorus program in 1986 and the director of St. Johns County Center for the Arts at SAHS, a program for performing and visual arts.

“It was actually Beth Lambert who initially proposed the idea of offering a choral concert for the holiday season,” Dodd explains.

Lambert, who recently retired as Limelight Theatre’s executive director, was a SJCCA parent, and she recalled how powerful and moving Dodd’s choral concerts were at the high school and thought that a program for the holidays would be a great fit for Limelight’s season.

Joining Dodd as assistant musical director of the concert is Elizabeth Beaton, a veteran choral conductor and private voice instructor. The SAHS Singers, as they are now known, rehearse on Monday nights at Limelight Theater and virtually through a live private Facebook group for members who study and work out of town.

“Holiday Hallelujah” will feature music from Dodd’s 35-year career at SAHS, including two songs from Walt Disney World’s Candlelight Processional — a popular invitational event featuring a mass choir, 50-piece orchestra and celebrity narrator, which Dodd’s student singers participated in every holiday season.

On Nov. 14, the singers had a pleasant surprise as Derric Johnson, founder and 30-year director of the Voices of Liberty at Epcot Center and creator of Disney’s Candlelight Processional, showed up to lead the rehearsal.

“It was such a treat to reconnect with you after all these years,” he said to the singers. “The choir is truly wonderful, and the musical energy they produce is magnificent!”

Johnson regaled the group with his recounting of the history of the Candlelight Processional, including memories of Walt Disney himself and of his role working with the creative team who helped bring the event to fruition and a tradition that continues to this day.

Chorus member Leslie Banta remarked, “This was such an awesome experience again after so many years!”

Kathleen Doll said, “Such a special experience to join in the livestream tonight!”

After the “Holiday Hallelujah” premiere, the SAHS Singers will continue making magic together, as they have been invited to perform at the Vatican in June 2023.

“Holiday Hallelujah” is on stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at the Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College. Tickets are $28 and available through Limelight Theatre’s website and box office: limelight-theatre.org or call 904-825-1164.

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