The sound of Christmas music filled the air at the Yoke’s Fresh Market on Argonne Road last week, but it wasn’t prerecorded holiday tunes. Several members of the East Valley High School group called the Strolling Strings gave up a few days of their Christmas break to perform for holiday shoppers in the aisles.
The group played and sang as they walked, making people stop and stare. Some smiled and others held up their cell phones so the person on the other end could enjoy a bit of holiday cheer. A few picked up the tune and sang it to themselves as they walked away.
The students were at the store for several hours each day leading up to Christmas. They sat and played between the checkout stands and the front door in between strolls through the store. Parent Robert Hale was there to chaperone the group one day. “They were doing ‘Let it Snow, Let it Snow’ the other day,” he said. “I told them ‘You’d better be careful with that one. You might get run out of town.’ ”
The group performs in the area for just about anyone that requests them. They frequently play at the Davenport Hotel and for banquets.
One of the smiling shoppers the students passed as they played was Lee Carlson. “My granddaughter used to play with them,” she said as she spied their East Valley lettermen’s jackets. “They’re great. They do a wonderful job. There’s a lot of talent.”
Shopper Glenda Wendt, in town for the holidays, paused as the students walked by playing “Silver Bells.” “I just thought that was neat,” she said.
The students were playing violins, violas and cellos. The cellos, large instruments not normally seen as portable, seemed to hang perfectly suspended. There’s a trick to that, said cello player Leland Hale. “The tuning peg rests on your neck,” he said.
All insisted that playing music while walking wasn’t as hard as it looked. Once the music is memorized, it just flows. “It’s subconscious,” said Melissa Kersh.
“What are hard are the dancing ones,” said senior Arias Santana.
The students were all too willing to show off a few of their dancing numbers even though they weren’t set to Christmas music. They took their places in front of the check out stands and twirled and spun as they played. People who had received the Christmas music with quiet enjoyment became more animated as the students danced, breaking into applause at the end of each dance. “Aren’t they awesome?” said one woman as she pushed her cart past.
Some who watched as they stood in line to check out came back after they had paid, mesmerized by the performance. “The dance isn’t hard, it’s playing with the dance,” said Hale. “You have to be able to dance first.”
The students are all dedicated musicians who have put in a lot of practice. Their class meets at 6:45 a.m. Freshmen who join the Strolling Strings have to prove they have mastered the material before they can participate in a public performance. “When you first start strolling, you have to practice a lot,” Hale said.
“I practiced three hours a day for the first week,” said freshman Kyle MacKercher. The upperclassmen swear it gets easier over the years. “For juniors and seniors, its second nature,” Santana said.
After a short break, it was time to pick up the instruments again and play more performances of “Silver Bells” and “Let it Snow” for the holiday shoppers.
“It’s fun,” said Hale.