Festive melodies filled Buford Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 8, for Buford City Schools’ annual Community Holiday Concert. The hour-and-a-half long performance was a joint presentation by performing arts groups from Buford Senior Academy, Buford Middle School and Buford High School and featured bands and choruses from each school, as well as the advanced dance class from BHS. Special features included the inaugural appearance of the Buford City Schools Faculty Chorus and a special guest appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus, who were joined by some local elves and reindeer dancers.
Buford Middle School teacher and 2004 BHS alumna Lauren Bradford Larson was one of the 25 voices in the faculty choir.
“As a BHS student, the Community Holiday Concert was always a highlight of each year,” Larson said. “That’s why it was even more special to perform in the first-ever faculty chorus as an alum and to relive the memories from my high school years.”
First started in December 1992 by (then) BHS choral director Chris Fowler, the combined concert was designed to build community, inspire continuity and lifelong musical learning, and give back time to families of multiple arts students during the hectic holiday season by presenting one, unified concert instead of several individual concerts.
“It was a natural fit for our close-knit town, and the program was readily embraced,” said Dr. Fowler, who stepped out of the classroom in 2020 and continues in his position as fine arts coordinator for the school system.
The very first Buford Community Christmas Concert was held in the auditorium at the old Buford Middle School, located on the present site of the Buford Community Center. For years to follow, every performing group in the system participated, presenting two to four numbers, with featured soloists interspersed. Each year, the program was capped off by “O, Holy Night,” sung by the high school choir with guest soloist Mrs. Joy Fowler, who served as a voice teacher for the BHS choral department, followed by a sing-along of spirited holiday favorites. Dr. Fowler continued those traditions at each annual choral concert thereafter.
Part of the allure, according to Dr. Fowler, was allowing the audience to see students participating in multiple musical ventures, going back and forth between the band and chorus, as well as allowing the young students to see the progression of success.
“We wanted to show our younger students what is possible when you apply yourself and continue a disciplined practice regimen on their instruments and to encourage articulation into the higher level programs,” Dr. Fowler said.
With various programming surprises popping up through the years (such as combining children’s and treble voices, a local church handbell choir and student solos and small groups), Dr. Fowler has continued to organize and present his labor of love to the community most every year since 1992, until the programs expanded beyond the capacity of the available facilities.
“Because the interest in the arts was so high, we eventually outgrew our existing facilities,” Dr. Fowler said. Individual programs then presented their own concerts, presenting a full performance calendar amidst final exams prior to the holiday break. Then in 2016, with the addition of the Buford Arena, Dr. Fowler reinitiated the Community Holiday Concert.
“It was the first event to be held in the new space at the request of school board chairman, Phillip Beard,” Dr. Fowler said. “The ribbon cutting ceremony was actually held on the floor of the arena prior to the concert.”
Now having grown to include approximately 1,000 student performers, the annual Community Holiday Concert is once again a staple for the still very close-knit community of Buford. The old traditions have continued and new traditions have begun as technology and numbers have expanded. This year’s concert was still capped off with the “good, old-fashioned sing-along” (as it was listed in the very first printed program), except this year’s program was strictly accessed through a QR code displayed on the matrix board for the event’s approximately 4,000 audience members to download.
“I’m extremely proud of our students and teachers for a phenomenal performance,” Dr. Fowler said. “I deeply appreciate their hard work and dedication, and none of this would be possible without the ongoing support of our fine arts programs by the parents, teachers, community members, administration and our remarkable Buford Board of Education and Buford City Commission.”
“This concert is a wonderful way for the community to unite to celebrate the holidays and enjoy everything our arts programs have to offer,” Larson said. “It’s so special to see our youngest students grow into astonishing musicians, and I am truly looking forward to watching my 4-year-old perform on that stage one day in the future!”
FEATURED PHOTO: The Buford High School Chamber Chorus performs at the annual Community Holiday Concert on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, at the Buford Arena. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Moon