By KELLY CHEN
Students, alumni, teachers, and parents all gathered in the auditorium on June 2 for the choir’s annual ALS benefit concert, SerenAIDe. Since its inception in 2005, SerenAIDe has allowed students to showcase their musical talent in order to raise money for ALS awareness. The event was established to assist Mrs. Wions, the former choir director, whose husband was diagnosed with the disease.
ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, affects the nervous system, weakening muscles and inhibiting everyday tasks, such as walking and talking. It was brought to widespread attention with the the ice bucket challenge in 2014. Joe Wions, who contracted this chronic disease, was able to buy ramps and a wheelchair-accessible van with the funds raised from SerenAIDe. Though Joe Wions passed away in 2011, SerenAIDe continues each year in memory of him.
SerenAIDe, currently in its twelfth year, is donating the money raised this year to Scott Fleming, a veteran diagnosed with ALS. Scott, who was an avid athlete and marathon runner before he was diagnosed, now requires a wheelchair to move around. Scott was seated in the front of the auditorium during SerenAIDe as a guest of honor.
SerenAIDe is mainly a student-organized event, with minimal intervention from the choir director. The choir council created several committees to organize the night: a publicity committee, food committee, and concert night committee. Consisting of student volunteers, each committee advertised the event and made the night run smoothly. Senior and choir council member Shriya Khonde said, “I love leading the concert night committee because so many students want to help out and be a part of this amazing concert. In preparation for SerenAIDe, we create and print out all the tickets and programs. Students also help out during the concert as ushers and ticket collectors.”
Performances were all based upon the theme of unity, as displayed on this year’s t-shirts that don the slogan “Building a future for those with ALS, together.” Song choices ranged from Jessie J’s “Flashlight” to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. Alumni graduating from as far back as 2009 returned to JP with performances of their own and sang “How Can I Keep from Singing” by Z. Randall Stroop with the Alumni Choir. This touching piece was conducted by Mrs. Wions and included a solo from alumnus Robert Zhang. The Orphan Sporks, an a cappella group from Rutgers University, also graced the stage with a rendition of “Swim Good” by Frank Ocean. All student and guest performances contributed an immense amount of effort to organize and rehearse. “There was a lot preparation leading up to the concert because it required scheduling a time outside of school with my accompanists to practice. Actually performing was exhilarating. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but in the end, I was singing for the cause. The words I was singing began to mean something when I put a purpose behind them and that made the performance better for both me and the audience,” said sophomore Shruti Sundaresh, who sang Coldplay’s “Fix You.” The concert concluded with the Chamber Ensemble’s performance of “On the Morrow,” a yearly tradition that pays tribute to Joe Wions.
Mrs. Wions took the stage to thank the JP Stevens choir for all it has done throughout the years to support Joe. “Everyone experienced a great amount of change,” she commented. “The choir helped us face those challenges and changes. You were our family, and we will forever be grateful.” She also awarded the Joe Wions Scholarship to senior Shivam Bhatt for his never-ending dedication toward the choir and ALS cause, even after Joe Wions no longer needed fundings.
At the end of the night, the concert raised approximately $2,000 to donate to the ALS Association and Scott Fleming. “SerenAIDe’s purpose is to let us enjoy music, but also to spread love,” said junior Chris Yeh, a choir member. “A single event is able to bring together an entire community of people so that the people we help feel like family.” With the hard work of choir students, both past and present, SerenAIDe truly embodied the theme of unity.