The BHHS Jills Choir Celebrates 60 Years

Jills practice

"I wanted to be a part of the Jills, because it's such a time-honored tradition," shares Bailey Mcclelland, BHHS student.  The Jills, a small, all-girls audition choir, celebrates 60 years of musical excellence.

"The reason I wanted to be in the Jills was I liked that it was a smaller group, so we could do different pieces than we would normally do in Choir,"  says Nivey Nithiyananthan, BHHS student.  "The Jills perform pieces from all around the world.  I've enjoyed singing pieces from Czechoslovakia, African pieces in Swahili, and a lot of Latin music, adds Mcclelland.

In addition to singing, students learned to read music and play the handbells.  "We taught ourselves Carol of the Bells on the bells," Sophie Beeckman, BHHS student shares. "It was very challenging.  We have more Jills this year, so we had to work in new bell parts. Mrs. Riley didn't want to just tell us what to do; we had to learn it on our own.  In the real world, if I'm asked to work on a tedious process with a group, I know it doesn't have to be a bad thing.  It can be a learning experience and a collaborative effort, bringing you closer to people."

The Jills provides valuable learning experiences, preparing students for life beyond high school. 

"As a member of the Jills, I've learned that everyone has a different voice, and you can't change another person's voice to fit yours. You have to learn to blend it together," shares Nithiyananthan.  "That's something that I can connect to the real world because in the future, when I work in the medical field, I will encounter others who think or perceive things differently.  I will still need to work with them to come up with solutions if we have a problem. I know the medical field is very competitive; you have to be independent and work well with others."

"Perhaps most importantly, the Jills has taught me to be independent and dedicated," Mcclelland says.  "I put my all into what I'm doing, and that's going to benefit me when I travel out of state for college."

Jills performance

Bruce Synder Reflects On What it Was Like to Direct the BHHS Jills Choir

How long did you teach for Bloomfield Hills Schools? 
My wife and I both worked in Bloomfield Hills Schools for 35 years. From the fall of 1978 to June of 2013.

What are some of your favorite experiences as director?
This is a long list!. I always had fun when we were singing with Kenny Rogers at the Fox theater, which we did for six seasons.  The kids knew every corner of the Fox, and we did more to create good tone and good camaraderie in the basement of the Fox than we did in weeks in the classroom. 
A thrill for the Jills was being able to record with Aretha Franklin.  A long, hot day in August; I was frantically trying to write down notes that Aretha was improvising on the piano for the group to sing. Amazing!  
We sang and recorded with the University of Michigan Chamber Choir and two other high school groups--and we were all paid $1 as models.  The photograph of our working together was used in the advertisements for the new Corvette. 
I've stood on the Acropolis in Greece, the top of Mont Blanc in Chamonix, climbed 660 steps to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower--all with Andover students.  We've sung in Notre Dame, Paris, and St. Peter's in the Vatican.  Our several trips to Prague supporting a children's peace initiative were especially meaningful.  We sang concerts in beautiful halls, schools, un-heated churches, psychiatric health facilities all around Prague.  In one tender moment an elderly woman came up in tears after the concert.  We always sang a few songs in Czech.  She exclaimed, after the years of communist rule, we were teaching them their own songs that she hadn't sung since her childhood.

What is something that people don't realize about the Jills? 
The Jills were the first group to use handbells to accompany themselves.  They have been examples and goodwill ambassadors all over our country, and all around the continent of Europe--holding up standards of rare music making, serious pedagogy while being fun and entertaining.  At 60 years and counting, they are one of the longest Bloomfield Hills Schools traditions.

What style of music do you like? 
I like all styles really.  I attend the symphony and the opera in detroit regularly, and also the music theater events in town. I have been a church musician for over 40 years. 

What advice would you give current students or alumni? 
Work hard, pursue musical excellence if that's your path, pursue being a "whole person," and allow the arts to inform, translate and add meaning to every aspect of your life.

Is there anything else that you would like to add? 
More than 20 years ago, my wife and I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to see a former Jill, Susan Facer, perform as Christine Daae in the national tour of Phantom of the Opera.  We recently took a trip to Cleveland, to see a recent Jill alum, Alyssa Giannetti, perform as Christine Daae in Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom.  
The privilege of spending a lifetime with young people-- talented, eager, insanely bright, challenging, caring young people--has been one of the greatest joys of my life.