High schools in West and Southwest Orange County will participate in the Candlelight Processional at Epcot throughout the holiday season.
A Disney tradition continues — and high schools in West and Southwest Orange County are bringing it to life.
A dazzling display of singing amidst candles and holiday cheer returns as Epcot hosts its Candlelight Processional from Friday, Nov. 29, through Monday, Dec. 30, at the America Gardens Theatre in the United States area of the World Showcase.
For local high-school chorus programs chosen to join the performance, it’s the culmination of weeks of hard work — staying after
school to rehearse and committing holiday songs to memory.
The event presents the story of Christmas through a celebrity narrator, alongside a choir of 300 singers and 50-piece orchestra.
It’s a spectacle to behold — and a special moment for high schoolers to be a part of.
WE THREE SINGS
Windermere High School has been open for only three years, but this year marks the third in a row that the Wolverines have been chosen to participate in the event’s honor choir — a group of designated singers that anchor the entire choir and provide a balanced range of voices.
Linda Boot, director of choral activities at Windermere High, said that she’s bringing 73 students to participate this year. The students from Windermere High will be performing at 5 p.m. Dec. 9 and 13, as well as 6:45 and 8:15 p.m. Dec. 25.
Boot said she’s proud to see her students get named once again to the honor choir — only about 18 schools were chosen for that seat in the Central Florida area this year, she said.
“We’re really excited to participate,” Boot said. “We’re hoping that we’re starting something that’s going to be a longtime tradition for the Windermere Wolverines.”
That excitement over the event is stronger than ever despite this being Boot’s 30th year participating in the event — she spent 27 years at Apopka High School teaching chorus before helping start Windermere High.
Boot said the students began preparing for the event as soon as school started this year, with the songs being incorporated into lessons. The students auditioned in mid-September and were chosen in early October.
Students like junior Andres Del Castillo and sophomore Kindahl Hartsock can’t wait to take the stage at Epcot.
“We as a choir really enjoy Candlelight — it’s a great experience for us to get up on stage and really sing in front of other people,” Del Castillo said. “We just really enjoy it — we enjoy the late nights at Disney and feeling like true actors backstage with the Disney company.”
“I think it’s a very good opportunity for us to show ourselves off as a choir,” Hartsock said.
THEIR TIME TO SHINE
This year’s Candlelight Processional at Epcot is a special one for Ocoee High School — to Chorus Director Samuel Carlton’s knowledge, it’s the first time the school has ever participated in the event.
“I did talk to our principal, Ms. (Laura) Beusse, and she said she believed this is the first time that the school is going,” Carlton said.
“We’re really excited — the kids have worked incredibly hard,” he said. “I think this is one of the most challenging things that they’ve ever attempted for the chorus program. I’m really pleased with the work that they put in and the effort and the time and the dedication for all of the after-school rehearsals, because it’s a lot.”
Starting his second year teaching at Ocoee High School, Carlton knew he wanted to get his Ocoee Knights onto the America Gardens Theatre stage for the holiday event. Preparation and rehearsals started early in the year as the chorus students rolled up their sleeves and got to work memorizing a setlist of holiday music.
Students stayed after school four days a week for hourlong rehearsals. That was on top of singing much of the music during class for lessons.
It was all worth it, though, as Ocoee High sent its video audition to Disney in mid-September and heard back about a month later that it was chosen. Disney will welcome around 30 Ocoee High School students to the America Gardens Theatre stage to perform at 6:45 and 8:15 p.m. Dec. 3.
“I tell the kids all the time, ‘I can’t want it more than you guys,’ and they wanted it — they showed that they wanted it,” Carlton said. “I am overwhelmed with how proud I am.”
Sophomore T’Nya Dawson said it’s amazing to see all of the rehearsing and hard work pay off.
“We’re just really happy to go perform for Disney,” Dawson said. “I think it’s really cool that we can go out with a choir and all sing together. ... At the beginning we didn’t know the music, so you’re kind of down because, ‘Hey I don’t know how to do this or do that’ or “How is this going to sound?’ Then you have the tracks, and when everybody comes together and sings the piece it just sounds so amazing and you feel so accomplished.”