Music department excited for combined winter concert on Dec. 20

The Steel Valley chorus in 2022

The Steel Valley music department is hoping a double-dose of musical cheer will get the community in the holiday spirit this year.

Steel Valley will host its annual winter concert on Wednesday, December 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium. Admission is free and this year’s show will feature both the concert bands and the choirs on the same night.

“I'm extremely excited to have a combined concert,” middle school and high school band director Ms. Malia Mueller said. “We’re kind of using it as a way for us to recruit, but also to just bring everyone together right before the holidays. Being able to share music and what we are so passionate about, and being able to share that with the community all at once, is really special.”

The night is also a chance for the community to see the work Ms. Mueller and choral director Mr. Andrew Roberts have been putting in with the students. Both are newcomers to Steel Valley this year, but they’re not new to the region. Ms. Mueller is a Baldwin graduate, while Mr. Roberts graduated from Bethel Park. They made their way back to the Pittsburgh area after spending time at different schools out east.

“I love teaching voice. And I hadn’t had the chance to do that in a high school setting yet,” Mr. Roberts said. “So, when this job popped up, and I saw the opening, I was like, “Oh, I'm definitely applying for that. I would love to get that experience.”

Mr. Roberts earned his bachelor’s in music education at Penn State University and his masters at the University of Delaware. He had always been a trombonist, but a required solo vocal singing class at Penn State connected him with a professor who gave him the foundational skills for healthy singing and encouraged him to include it as part of his music education career. When it came time to choose between an instrumental or choral track in college, he chose the choir.

2022 vocal concert

“I figured I spent a lot of time in bands and orchestras, this might make me a little more marketable as far as getting a job and all that,” Mr. Roberts said. “It's very much a part of who I am now, as well as my instrumental experience on trombone.”

Mr. Roberts spent the past seven years in the Pen Argyl School District near Allentown, where he was the choral director for three choirs in middle school. He and his wife decided to move back home, and he’s been excited to get to know students at all grade levels. At the middle school level, the students have been focusing on building foundational skills – singing together, singing in harmony, holding their own parts, and developing healthy singing habits. High school builds upon those foundations and starts to present more complexity, new challenges, and further overall development.

Ms. Mueller returned to the region after teaching in the Palmerton Area School District, also in the general Allentown area. A clarinet player in her youth, Ms. Mueller had the opportunity to perform with the Pittsburgh Youth Philharmonic Orchestra in high school and in various Pennsylvania Music Educators Association band festivals. But it was a special opportunity that lit the flame for her to pursue music education.

“The highlight of my high school career, what actually got me interested in continuing music post-high school, was playing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra when I was in high school,” she said. “It's a program that they run every year with high school students. So that was super cool sharing the stage with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.”

The Penn State University graduate now teaches fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade band along with high school band. For Wednesday’s show, the fifth and sixth graders will perform together while the seventh through 12th graders will perform together much like they do in the Steel Valley Marching Band.

Last year's concert band performance

Much like the choir, Ms. Mueller said fifth and sixth graders spend most of their time focused on refining the basics and building their foundations as performers.

“In those grades we're really focusing on what's the rhythm, what is this fingering on my instrument? How do I blend my sound in to the entire band? How does my part fit into everyone else's part that's going around me?” she said. “So, it's a lot more teaching the basics of music with less challenging music and kind of growing the foundation so that when they go into the upper middle school and the high school grade levels, we can apply that basic foundation into hard, challenging music.”

Wednesday’s concert will feature the high school choir first, followed by the middle school choir. There will be a brief intermission before the concert bands take the stage.

“I think that's actually a really great thing too, because then the middle schoolers get to see where they're going,” Mr. Roberts said. “Whether they're in band or they're in the middle school chorus, they get to see, ‘Oh, those are the kids that I'm going to fill the shoes of in a few years.”

The overall setlist will remain a surprise, but Mr. Roberts is excited for the high school choir to perform a piece called “Christmas Bell Roundelay,” which he said has some similarities to the classic “Carol of the Bells.”

“You’ll want to listen for the bell like sounds that they're creating just by singing the dings and dongs and things. There are many different rhythmic things that are happening throughout the choir,” Mr. Roberts said. “It's an exciting piece. So, I'm looking forward to doing that one with them.”

As for the concert band, the students were able to exert a little influence on Ms. Mueller to add a particular song to the program.

“They convinced me to do “Sleigh Ride,” a bemused Ms. Mueller said. “They’re always excited to work on that one.”

The entire community is welcome to enjoy the show on Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

“I'm excited that Mr. Roberts and I get to showcase what we've been doing in our first performance on December 20,” Ms. Mueller said. “I’m looking forward to it being a nice little send off right before break.”