Sparta — Bob Alonzo starts class by climbing up on a chair. His music and notes sprawl across two music stands. As he starts leading vocal warmups, the seventh-graders slouched in their chairs straighten up and join in. Smiles break out as he exaggeratedly conducts enunciation and projection practice.
Seventh-grader Jaslene Sustaita is among the students warming up, happy for the chance to sing for their energetic director.
“My favorite part is the amazing teacher we have,” Jaslene said. “He’s really enthusiastic.”
Alonzo is leading Sparta’s first established vocal music program, at both the middle school and Sparta High School, in at least seven years. The new Sparta Middle School building, which was completed last summer, included a designated choir room, where Alonzo’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade choirs now meet.
“I’ve always loved the community in Sparta,” Alonzo said. “Everyone is so friendly.”
Alonzo attended Grant High School in Newaygo County, where Sparta High School’s current band teacher, Jim Walsh, was his drumline instructor. Alonzo was excited at the prospect of working together in the Sparta community. “I always loved teaching choir,” he said.
Alonzo started teaching as a long-term substitute at Cedar Springs High School just before the pandemic began. The next year he landed a full-time position in Baldwin, but then came the Sparta opportunity.
“I have been keeping my eye on Sparta for years as this was my ideal location that was close to my house, and had a wonderful reputation,” he said.
His seventh-grade choir was practicing for their March 22 concert, where they were to perform songs like “Homeward Bound” and “How Can I Keep from Singing?” After rehearsing a song, the students listen to a recording and give their own feedback, complimenting what they did well and pointing out what they want to improve upon the next time through.
Singing Side by Side Again
At the start of the year, masks were required for everyone and the choir had to meet 6 feet apart. Eventually, that distance came down to 3 feet. Now, at last, they’re able to stand side by side, maskless, and sing.
“Just being able to sing together was an awesome opportunity,” Alonzo said.
Administration’s commitment to getting the program off the ground was also influential in Alonzo’s decision to take on the job.
“Knowing that the administration was really supportive of the arts made me really excited to be here,” he said. Alonzo’s choirs are currently fundraising in hopes of adding wheels to their piano and investing in new risers for the choirs to use.
‘My favorite part is the amazing teacher we have. He’s really enthusiastic.’– seventh-grader Jaslene Sustaita
At the end of last year, students were given an opportunity to choose an elective for this year. Seventh-grader Lillian Ketchel said she was excited when she found out that choir would be an option. “I’ve been singing since I was little,” she said. She chose the class over Spanish.
“I love music in general,” said seventh-grader Faith Heppard. “I chose choir because I love to sing.”
As for Jaslene, she said she would “100 percent” choose choir again.