PHOTO: In 2013, The Henry Hudson Alumni A Cappella Choir performed at the Rockefeller Center Tree in New York.
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – It started after Hurricane Sandy to buoy spirits for those in the devastated Bayshore. But retired music teacher Tom Elliott said, “I just do it because even though they’re adults, they’re still my kids!”
That’s the background of the Henry Hudson Alumni a cappella Choir which will be on stage Friday night, December 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Charles J. Hesse Parish Center on South Avenue.
Elliott, who retired after 33 years at Henry Hudson in 2011, explained there is a one rehearsal “just to jog our memories” for alumni of Henry Hudson who come together to sing holiday music, and for the second time, to raise funds for a specific organization in need. IN 2017, it was the Jersey Shore Rescue Mission, and this year it will be the Monmouth County ASPCA.
Tickets for the event are available at the door, with the suggested donation of $5 per person, and $10 per family.
Elliott is highly revered, respected and loved by every student who ever studied music, was part of the choir, or played in the band at Henry Hudson during his 33 years there, as well as listeners who have been captivated by the talent the music director manages to capture and project in each of his students. He declines to total the number of different musical instruments he plays, but says simply, “well, you have to know them all to teach them.”
Elliott started at Henry Hudson in 1971, teaching there three years before transferring to Manchester High School for the next five. But the Bayshore drew the Navesink resident back to the 7 through 12 school in Highlands, and he stayed from 1981 through his retirement in 2011. For the past 24 years, he has also been music director at St. Agnes Church, and last Sunday co-directed the annual parish concert at St. Agnes Church with Courtney Grogan Hernandez, who directs the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church choir in the same parish.
For the Alumni Concert, Elliott said there will be some surprises to his year, and the holiday program will end with a sing-along including everyone present. “We’re even learning a new song,” he said, declining to identify it. “Let the audience be surprised, they’ll love it.”
Even though the group is only together for one practice in advance of the program, there will be four-part harmony, he said, and a variety of holiday tunes.
“The alumni are all ages,” the music director said, “we have some in their 20s, and some in their 50s and 60s, and a lot inbetween. They like getting together for this as much as I love getting to see them all at the holiday season.” There are approximately 45 voices anticipated to be in Friday night’s production.
Elliott said he started the program to lift morale after Sandy, since so many of the students and their families and their homes were seriously affected by the storm. It became a tradition because each year more alumni joined and it readily grew and became more popular. This year will be the first time it is at the South Avenue venue. The first year it was at OLPH Church, and here again in 2015. In 2014, it was at St. Agnes Church, and two years later, at the King James Care Center. A highlight of the series was in 2013, when the Alumni Choir performed at the Rockefeller Center Tree in New York. “We lucked out that year, too,” he chuckled, “it was around 55 degrees!”
In 2017, the Alumni a cappella choir held their program at the Wine Bar on First Avenue, and that was the year, Elliott said, when they decided to help other agencies with their performances. They raised close to $800 last year and presented that money to the Rescue Mission at Asbury Park.
“We all look forward to the holiday concert,” Elliott added, “besides being a happy and festive time of year and music always making people feel better, it is also a sort of reunion of all of us.”