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Bessemer vocal program sees big rise in single year


December 21, 2019

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

MEMBERS OF ADJ's senior choir sing "Carol of the Bells" at the Friday Christmas concert of Washington Elementary School. Although junior and senior high school students already gave their own concert on Dec. 7, they were invited to perform a couple numbers at the elementary concert as well. The WES concert was held in the ADJ gym.


Bessemer - When Sandra Genisot accepted a position last year from the Bessemer Area School District, it was not a random decision.

"I knew I was supposed to do this," said the Wisconsin native who was hired to start a choir program at the A.D. Johnston Junior and Senior High School in Bessemer.

She also teaches vocal music to students in kindergarten and grades one through six at Bessemer's Washington Elementary School.

When Genisot first assembled her high school choir, there were only 11 students, but word got out that singing was fun, and that number has grown to 40 in just one year.

She said the junior high choir has held fairly steadily at 26 members.

"These kids are truly excited to be part of something," said Genisot, who earned her teaching degree from UW-Superior, followed by about 15 years of experience.

"It's amazing what kids can do if you let them," she added. "They just need a little encouragement."

Genisot spoke to the Daily Globe on Thursday, in advance of a Friday Christmas concert by WES students. The packed concert was well received, with students offering a wide range of numbers with style and gusto.

Genisot is also proud of how ADJ's junior and senior high school students performed at their Dec. 7 concert.

"They took that stage by storm," she said. "They exceeded even their own expectations."

The students sang a variety of songs, from traditional Christmas hymns such as "Silent Night," to peppy pop numbers such as "Holiday Road," to diverse pieces such as "African Noel."

By popular demand, they even reprised their roles to sing a couple numbers during the WES concert.

Genisot said she tries to expose the kids to a variety of music, but added of the final choices, "It's definitely a collaborative effort. Kids can be very creative if given the opportunity."

One of the surprising aspects of the students' success is that most of them have not sung like this before. Genisot said some parents of soloists told her they'd never heard their children sing before.

Genisot said she's grateful for the support she gets from the district administration and staff, and pointed out that most staff members attend the concerts, which means a lot to the kids.

She also gets concert back-up from her husband, Bob, who plays bass; her son, Jeffrey, who does percussion; and her son, Michael, who videos the performances.

"They've been my support system through my whole career," she said. "It's been a joy."

Next on the horizon are even more ambitious plans, as Genisot and her older students hope to create a show choir.

Before accepting her job here, Genisot said she'd taken a year off to help her ailing mom. She now believes that being here is part of her destiny.

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

FIRST GRADERS from Washington Elementary School sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" at the school's Friday Christmas concert, which was held in the gym of the A.D. Johnston High School. Vocal teacher Sandra Genisot directed the kids, who also sang "Hip Hop Elves" and "I Want to Go Outside."

"God's plans are better than my plans," she said, adding that she intends to stay here many years.

"My plan coming in last year was to grow the program," she said, "but the rate really surprised me because it's not just 40 kids. It's 40 fantastic kids."

As Genisot noted in a school Facebook post after the ADJ concert, "In the last three months, I've had the honor of watching students discover talent they didn't know they had, and run with it! I've watched students step out of their comfort zones and find out that they truly love performing!"

She continued, "The greatest thing I have witnessed is the way these students have encouraged each other and built each other up. I have been moved to tears watching these kids cheer for each other. Don't write off this next generation. They are smart, creative, and passionate. They are hard workers, dedicated, and motivated to succeed. They will strive for excellence, if only given the chance."

She concluded by thanking her students for reminding her why she became a music teacher.


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