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Michigan students ascend 5-story Singing Christmas Tree

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Members of the Mona Shores High School Choir stand in the Singing Christmas Tree during a dress rehearsal performance at the Frauenthal Center in Muskegon, Mich. The five-story Singing Christmas Tree features 15 tiers on which about 220 student singers stand.

MUSKEGON, Mich. >> It’s not that an oversized tree adorned with ornaments is uncommon as a student choir sings carols in the days leading up to Christmas. It’s more that the towering steel tree is decorated with garland, twinkling lights and hundreds of teenagers.

The Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree combines the usual elements into an unusual show that will draw thousands of spectators this weekend. The 67-foot-tall tree features 25,000 lights, 5,000 linear feet of greenery, and 15 tiers on which about 220 choir members stand. About 50 other students sing from positions near the base of the tree.

“It’s basically … a bunch of choir students standing in a tree singing Christmas music,” said Brynne Wilcox, a Mona Shores High School senior who is taking part in her fourth and final set of shows, which run through Saturday at the Frauenthal Center in Muskegon.

Freshmen are relegated to the bottom of the five-story tree, while sophomores and juniors populate the middle. Seniors set up shop in the upper levels. The very top is the domain of the “Tree Angel,” a senior selected by Shawn Lawton, the director of the Mona Shores High School Choir.

“It’s not that kid who’s the greatest singer, necessarily,” Lawton said. “But instead just someone with a lot of heart and maybe has lived through a lot and still smiles.”

Lawton picked two Tree Angels this year, marking only the second time that’s been done in the 31-year history of the show. They are alternating shows atop the tree.

Wilcox is positioned just below the angel. “It’s definitely a little scarier when you’re 14 rows up than when you’re standing on the ground,” she said.

But Wilcox needn’t worry, because Darcy Welsh and her fellow “tree monkeys” are never too far away. Welsh is one of the two dozen or so choir moms and dads who climb into the innards of the tree and stand watch on platforms located behind the singers, ready to assist those who are overcome by the height and heat from the lights shining on them.

“If we have to bring them out of the tree, we have an area with nurses, and there is food and drink,” said Welsh, herself a Mona Shores High graduate and a former Singing Christmas Tree participant.

All of the 275 student singers made it safely through a free dress rehearsal Wednesday night for members of the community with special needs, the elderly, and others who might not otherwise be able to come to the show.

Audience members roared in approval when the Singing Christmas Tree — shrouded in darkness at the start of the show — burst into light as the choir belted out “Gloria.”

“It means the world to me to carry on the tradition,” Lawton said.



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