GHS singers see Sparks

Choir director Phil Robb works with the Chamber Singers before

Gilroy
– It is a strange sound to hear in March: Christmas carols
emanating from Gilroy High School’s theater. But Grammy award
winning folk artist Randy Sparks was in town this week recording
the sequel to his 1963 Christmas album, this time featuring the GHS
Chamber Singers in the chorus.
Gilroy – It is a strange sound to hear in March: Christmas carols emanating from Gilroy High School’s theater. But Grammy award winning folk artist Randy Sparks was in town this week recording the sequel to his 1963 Christmas album, this time featuring the GHS Chamber Singers in the chorus.

Donning corduroys and hiking boots, salt and pepper hair astray – Sparks was a far cry from his squeaky clean self in the 1960s.

He was in unfamiliar territory. Sitting in the audience, tapping his toes to the music, Sparks smiled as the Chamber Singers sang to along to a recording. They will appear on all eight tracks of Merry Christmas! Volume II.

“After 40-something years, (the Christmas CD) was a bestseller on Amazon.com,” Sparks said. “I thought (fans) were ready for a volume II.”

Historically reluctant to change band members, Sparks invited the Chamber Singers because of his respect for GHS choir director Phillip Robb.

“We’ve had a newfound popularity after all these years, and we needed something that only Phil could give us,” he said.

Sparks is the director and founder of the New Christy Minstrels – a folk group that won the 1962 Grammy award for best performance by a chorus.

Throughout the decades, members of the group changed, and many well-known performers – such as Kenny Rogers and members of the Byrds – got their start from working with Sparks.

“Most of these kids don’t have an appreciation for what they’re doing right now, (by working with Randy Sparks),” Robb said. “They’re too young (to remember.) But it’s the founding of an American legend.”

While Robb and Sparks have similar roles as directors, they have opposite styles.

Sparks appears as if in another world – humming along with the singers, often long after the music has stopped. He might unexpectedly get up and search the theater for unexplained noises interfering with the recording. Then he shouts directions from the floor, “make it a little bizarre, make it weird.”

Robb directs using a distanced, authoritative manner on the stage. He is the man behind the piano. He knows exactly when singers are out of key, volume, and time – and without looking, knows just who to tell to correct it.

This is not Sparks’ first trip to Gilroy. Last year he made an unreleased record with the Chamber Singers. But the songs were less upbeat, less storytelling than this record said Chamber member senior, Dawnielle Mellander.

“We’ve been used to working with him. It’s kind of a fun (working with Sparks),” Mellander said. “We get to do a lot of stuff our way.”

More than 30 students lent their voices to the album, many of them performers in the senior play, “Annie Get Your Gun” that opened over the weekend.

“We’ve been pushing these kids from both ends,” Robb said. “There’s no rest for the weary.”

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