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Winter Programs Kick Off Holiday Cheer
Cal Ave sing
The festive reindeers hit the stage to perform at the California Avenue Elementary Winter Assembly. Ric McGinnis/The News
Jeremy Clifton
The music teacher for both Mesa Verde and California Avenue schools, Jeremy Clifton, performed with the guitar as the students belted out the holiday tunes. Virginia Still/The News
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This little one was all smiles and had a little bit of nerves before her holiday performance last week at California Avenue School. Virginia Still/The News

Jeremy Clifton is the music teacher for California Avenue Elementary and Mesa Verde Elementary and he created a Winter Program for students, staff and families to celebrate the season. The special winter performances occurred last week at both schools.

This is Clifton’s second year with the Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) and he has settled in well. During the winter program each class was able to sing a few songs for family and friends.

“We know from research that there are many benefits for students who participate in music education,” stated Christine Facella, RUSD Superintendent. “A few of them include language development with young children, more engaged in school; they learn teamwork and are more confident.”

Facella added that through the Local Control Accountability Plan the district was able to add the music instruction for grades 2 through 5 in addition to band lessons for fifth graders that want to participate.

“As a result of these efforts, the band classes at the middle school have grown tremendously,” she said. “I attended the Cardozo Middle School Band Concert Wednesday night and was pleased to see a sixth grade band of 88 students.”

“I was really pleased with how well all of the concerts went,” noted Clifton. “Last year was my first time doing it and, though they went well, we found ways to make the concerts even better this year. Our organization bringing all of the classes in and out of the auditorium made for smoother transitions. We also had music playing during the waits so we didn’t have awkward silence between.”

The kindergarten and first graders learned the music from their teachers; however, Clifton had all their songs ready as they stepped on stage to perform and teachers did not have to plug their phones into the sound system which kept the concerts flowing.

“The students really worked hard on this concert and I felt like their enthusiasm showed during the performances,” he said. “Quite a few of them were nervous about the performance, which I assured them is normal, even for experienced performers, but the satisfaction after a job well done makes the pre-show anxiety worth it.”

Some of the students had a little bit of a dance routine and some had bright Christmas colors or festive holiday attire for their performances. Parents had their phones out at both shows taking pictures and video to treasure for years to come.

“The attendance for all of the performances was phenomenal,” exclaimed Clifton. “We had a packed house at both concerts at both schools. I’m always astounded by the support from family at these events. Our concerts are well-advertised by the staff at both schools and many of the parents take time off work to see the shows. I know that means a lot to the kids. It sure means a lot to me, too.”

There was an original song that he wrote for students called “To the Hills” which they performed. He wanted something specific to the kids in the Central Valley since many songs are about snow and that isn’t a frequent occurrence in Riverbank. So his idea was to create a song that they could relate to.

“I’ve written music since I was in middle school and performed many of my originals, but this was my first endeavor into writing children’s music,” added Clifton. “It’s always scary when doing something different than I’m used to. It’s much more vulnerable than simply performing a piece that someone else wrote because you’re not sure if your audience will like it.”

He explained that he began by writing lyrics for California Avenue for their school song as Mesa Verde already has one and he wanted ‘Cal Ave’ to have one as well. Also he added that the song expressed the desperation to see the snow, even if it means traveling by foot to get there.

“Both schools planned concerts that could accommodate more parents by holding two sessions instead of one,” said Facella. “It was great to see all the parents in attendance at both Mesa Verde and California Avenue School. The kindergarten students are always a pleasure to watch as they sing and gesture through the songs. Many students were dressed in a festive manner adding to the performance. All grades performed songs that were sung with cheer and happiness which makes everyone’s heart soar. I don’t believe I had a favorite song or performance but I would have to give credit to the teachers for the planning and practice to have such wonderful performances.”

Some thoughts for next year that Clifton may do is to continue writing and incorporating more original music along with adding choreography to the musical program.

“I think it will be fun and refreshing for families to hear music at these shows that is different from what they’re used to hearing,” stated Clifton. “An additional hopeful payoff will be that my students may be inspired to try their own hands at songwriting, which has personally been an important part of my life and could enrich theirs as well, should they decide to tackle that challenging art form.”

The performances brought many smiles and resounding applause getting everyone in the spirit of the holiday season.

“The students did a wonderful job singing at the Winter Assembly,” stated Kathy Briggs, Principal at California Avenue. “They were very excited about singing for the families that attended the concert. Jeremy did a fabulous job organizing the program and running the program.”

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There was a packed house at each holiday performance by elementary students last week. Virginia Still/The News
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Some of these California Avenue students had a little bit of a dance routine that they performed with the songs they sang. Virginia Still/The News
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Families came out to show their support for the students during the winter performance at California Avenue this past week. Virginia Still/The News
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The students at Mesa Verde had enthusiasm as they performed for parents at the Winter Program. Virginia Still/The News