Jeramy Upton says he'll sing anywhere -- in the car, of course, but also at his desk at work, waiting at the dinner table at a restaurant, any place he hears music, in the air or in his head.
"Music is pervasive in my life."
Of all the places he sings, Upton says he is "incredibly honored and humbled" to perform with the SoNA Singers, sharing the stage with the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas for the annual Christmas concert Dec. 9. He says he owes that opportunity to Terry Hicks, the chorus' director, whom he met when he was a student at Bentonville High School, and he revels in being "surrounded by fantastic musicians."
But Upton thinks there's more happening in those moments than the sharing of beautiful music.
"From a personal perspective, it's such an important point of connection for me," he says, "feeling the support of my fellow musicians, singers and orchestra as well as the directors and conductors, feeling the support from the audience -- all those things together give me a very much needed sense of community. I feel like a part of something much bigger than myself. "
Hicks, who has been teaching choral music in Bentonville for 33 years, gets a similar satisfaction from leading the SoNA Singers.
"I get to see the talent and the love and the desire to make great music from every walk of life," he says. Some of the performers, like Upton, are his former students, now working in every kind of job from doctor to shift manager at a restaurant. Others are college students and teachers. All of them are "people that just love to sing."
They come to the SoNA Singers by audition, and the current 88 members just went through a reaudition process to keep the chorus fresh. The season for them is usually October through May, with the Christmas concert in December, a masterwork in the spring and an April performance at the Fayetteville Public Library. Work on the Christmas concert starts in October.
"We do a number of pieces annually with the Symphony, so the vast majority of the chorus has performed the vast majority of the music in years past," Hicks says. "That means we can focus on new music and can bring new singers up to speed."
The choir's portion of the Christmas concert begins every year with the John Rutter arrangement of "O Come, All Ye Faithful," and Hicks says it is one of the most difficult pieces to get ready for performance "because of some really wonderful things Rutter did." But the real challenge is a "Musicological Journey Through the 12 Days of Christmas," a history of music, he describes, that begins with a Gregorian chant.
"We do try to hit a vast array of styles," Hicks says, "sacred as well as secular."
Hicks talks about making music with the same joy that Upton exudes, explaining that he was hooked by musical theater when he was cast as the lead in a high school production of "The Pajama Game."
"I just absolutely fell in love with the idea of Broadway and performing, and my teacher at my new high school exposed me to some touring companies and took me to New York City with my classmates -- so I saw 'Les Mis' when it premiered on Broadway," he continues.
"I was 100% musical theater. I found out my teacher's husband went to Ithaca College, and that's what I was going to do -- but when I was asked to declare a major, I figured I'd play it safe and say music education with a theater minor.
"Then the whole world of classical music just blossomed for me once I got there."
When the time came to choose, teach or perform, Hicks was ended up taking a job in "little ol' Bentonville, Arkansas." He's turned that job into an award-winning choral program -- and still gets to return to his first love on a regular basis. Bentonville High will produce "Into the Woods" in April.
"Anything Sondheim, count me in!" he says.
Upton says he hopes anyone who attends the SoNA Christmas concert leaves proud of the talent that exists in the community and eager to make music themselves.
"I want little kids to look up on stage and go, 'Man, I want to play the cello when I grow up!'," he says.
A Very SoNA Christmas
WHEN -- 2 & 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9
WHERE -- Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville
COST -- $36, $48 & $61; under 18 free with an adult (quantities limited)
INFO -- sonamusic.org
"The Snowman: A Family Concert," including holiday music for children of all ages and a special screening of the film "The Snowman" with live orchestral soundtrack, will be presented by SoNA at 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at WAC. Tickets are $10.