“What I did on my summer vacation.” Do teachers still assign that? I would think so, at least in the lower grades, because it gives kids an easy first essay and gives teachers useful intel on their new gang of monsters.
But after you graduate from high school, summers take on a different meaning. Gone is the carefree fun, because you know when fall comes, everything changes. Everyone scatters. Either you stay close to home for work or school and watch most of your friends take off, or you’re the one who leaves everyone behind.
Finally the college school year ends and many come back home for the summer; old friends run into each other at the beach, at parties, at the mall or playing ball. Good times, good memories, mostly — and then the cycle repeats. Is that all there is, my friend?
But what if you reached out one summer to the buds you shared the best times with in high school, and got, say, 19 or 20 of them together once a week, every week to do what you all love? What if at the end, instead of just sunburn, hangovers and the empty feeling of another too-short summer, you had something to show for it, something you could always be proud of? What if you wound up with a work of art?
But creating art doesn’t have to be all serious, so in that spirit they named themselves Huls’ Angels, these alumnae of the celebrated Santa Monica High School Choral Music Program. Jeffe Huls is the talented, driven, inspiring choir director they all studied and performed under, from the class of 2007 to this year’s class of ’13. Many jumped into his program in their freshman year and remained all four years, as it became one of the most enjoyable and satisfying things in their young lives.
What hath Huls wrought? A group of young women so enamored of the choral experience, and so well taught and equipped by him in every way that they could come together years later, this past Aug. 16 at New Roads School, and present a glorious a cappela concert. It was a unique, challenging program, for which they chose the composers, songs and arrangements, assigned parts, even transcribing and translating, entirely on their own. I attended every Samohi choir performance for four years, and this could stand with any of them.
Was it hard work? You bet. Did it take serious discipline and commitment? Absolutely. But was it great fun and lots of laughs, something they all knew had been missing in their lives, that bolstered their self-confidence that they could still kick choral butt, a performance that thrilled and uplifted a packed house and perhaps exceeded even their own expectations? Was it a great thing to do with your summer? Oh yeah.
It wasn’t even their whole summer. Remember, once a week. But a lot got done every week; rehearsals lasted four hours or more. Six other days and nights for beach and parties, but the woman who started it all said she couldn’t wait for Saturday to roll around.
“I had the idea to do this a year ago,” said Ariana Stultz (Madrigals, ‘11). “I got hold of Julia Seeholzer (Chamber, ‘08), who was a senior when I joined choir as a freshman. I was always in awe of her talent and drive. She loved the idea and we made plans and worked on it for a year before sending out invitations to singers.”
Stultz gives full credit to Seeholzer for her tremendous amount of focused work over a year plus a summer, as well as being the conductor. When Stultz made a brief acknowledgment toward the end of the performance that “without Julia’s leadership and so much hard work this absolutely would never have happened,” every head in the choir nodded in agreement. Seeholzer even secured their performance space, a very suitable high-ceilinged room at New Roads school, gratis. But Stultz is a firecracker of enthusiasm who was surely responsible for the large number of singers who answered the call, and stuck with it.
The program the young women chose was not a safe offering of pretty, standard choral pieces. It included works by three early 20th century composers (Stravinsky’s “Russian Folk Songs” was stark) and three born after 1950, as well as two from the Renaissance. It opened and closed with an “Ave Maria,” and smack in the middle was a head-turner, a great take on a well-known piece by another late 20th century composer — Prince. “When Doves Cry,” like you’ve probably never even imagined it. That pleased my eclectic and Prince-loving rock and roll heart to no end, and then I practically cracked my face grinning with pride as my daughter Nicole (Madrigals, ’11) stepped forward to take one of the three solos. Didn’t tell me. Wanted to surprise her dad. Did. I’ll never forget that moment.
Will there be an encore next summer? Nothing’s definite, but this was such a success, and these young women are so gloriously hooked on the choral high, I wouldn’t be surprised. But I don’t think anything can match the splash of what they did this time. To a woman they all declared they had not found a choir experience as good as what they had at Samohi, even though they were attending some prestigious, music-oriented schools. So instead of whining, they just did it themselves. That says a lot about Jeffe Huls. But it says even more about these 19 young women.
We have so many treasures here in Santa Monica, and Samohi is one of them, for more than a century. So is Jeffe Huls, and now, add Huls’ Angels.
One little line
I have a lot to learn yet about the Bergamot Area Plan, but something I have learned is to pay attention to certain things Rec and Parks Commissioner Phil Brock has to say about the future of Santa Monica.
This one caught my ear, that he threw out at a small, unrelated meeting: he said the plan includes one line that could change everything, if allowed to stand, and that is the single sentence that gives anything in the approved plan precedence over existing laws. I hope that is addressed at the September council meeting.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org