Middle school musicians perform

A Yuletide celebration by band and choir


The West Liberty Middle School bands and choirs gave their winter performance on Tuesday, Dec. 12. The gym was packed with the friends and families of middle school musicians.

The festivities began with the fifth and sixth grade bands. Together that included about 90 students.

West Liberty families showed up in droves to support their kids. Parents and families of student musicians filled every seat in the bleachers.

The conductor, Thomas Theiling, was clearly very proud of the work his students have been doing.

“For many of our students…this is their first time ever doing a public band performance,” Theiling said, “which is no small feat.”

Theiling introduced the fifth grade Junior Cadet band. “All of these students are brand new to their instrument.” Many of the 5th graders had never played an instrument at all before this school year began.

The sixth grade band ended the show with a skillful and creative display of musicianship in a song called “Garage Band” by Michael Story.

Percussionist Ruby Hall got to play a cordless drill, which made the audience laugh. The entire band seemed to enjoy it.

The seventh and eighth grade band and choirs performed next. Once again, the bleachers were filled with families supporting their tweens and teens.

It was clear that these young musicians have been working hard and learning a lot. Each song was introduced by two student speakers, one in English and one in Spanish.

The seventh graders offered a heart-felt rendition of the classic Mexican folk song, “Cielito Lindo” and the eighth graders rocked the 2004 hit “Unwritten,” among other songs.

A beautiful vocal solo was performed by eighth grader Danlynn Staley during the song “Kwaheri,” a traditional folk song from Kenya. The two choirs sang together for two final tunes, ending on a festive note with “Jingle Bell Rock.”

The choir director, Rebecca Swanson, was thrilled with the ambition and success of her students.

“They are just a magnificent group,” Swanson said. “I love working with them.”

After the choirs sang it was time for the band, many of the students stepped down from the risers and crossed the gym to pick up an instrument. 

The band played three songs in three very different styles. Mr. Theiling expressed the importance of exploring different genres of music.

They began with a medley of traditional American pride songs and then slipped into something jazzier.

“It’s a thing we don’t often play in concert band,” Theiling said, “So I wanted to give them an opportunity.”

After the final performance, most of the kids stuck around to help clean up the gym, moving chairs and music stands and high fiving each other.

Swanson sees evenings like this as a huge step in the right direction.

“The choir program was not happening during covid,” Swanson said, “So we had to really kind of start everything from scratch again.”

“We started last year with two very small choirs and I, as a first-year teacher, was also starting my own traditions as well,” he said. “It was really cool to pave the way and decide what the choir program was going to be like.”

The two choirs may have been small, but ambition in the department was anything but.

“We’re ready to keep growing and growing,” Swanson said. “I’m anticipating a lot more kids next year.”

A successful performance like this one doesn’t just happen. Theiling and Swanson have bigger plans for the middle school music department, including the addition of a middle school jazz band and some more theatrical activities.

“Our little jazz piece we played today is going to lead into us starting jazz band in January,” Theiling said.

“And one of the things I want do is…interact more with our high school and make it a single, unified program of growth,” he said.

“Starting in January, the seventh and eighth grade choir will do songs from a musical and the eighth graders will do some acting scenes from it,” Swanson said.

They won’t be doing a full musical, but a little light preparation for that possibility. “Then when they get to the high school and they do musicals and plays, it’s not as new,” he added.

“That way,” Theiling said, “they can just dip their toe in here, see how they feel about it and then do more later. They already know what they’re in for and they’re passionate.”

“Another awesome thing about our music program is that all of our music colleagues are really connected,” Swanson said.

“We’re all very close as people and professionally so we talk a lot about how we want to go from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and how we want that music program to look.”

Theiling and Swanson expressed gratitude for the trust and respect they receive from colleagues and administrators who clearly value their contributions and want them to succeed.

This kind of active teamwork is reflected in the students themselves, who also must act as a team while holding themselves individually accountable for the work they do in band and choir.

Swanson noted that maintaining similar curricula and teaching styles throughout the district helps students find familiar ground as they move up to the next school level.

“They already know exactly what to expect when they get to middle school,” she said. “We’re trying to streamline and make it a really cohesive unit.”

This unit couldn’t be more cohesive, as the students already know; Theiling and Swanson are planning their wedding for the summer of 2025.