By ERIC A. HOWALD Of the Keizertimes

Last summer, McNary High School junior Jesus Gomez got a phone call from choir director Jim Taylor issuing him a challenge: come up with a Christmas medley and original arrangement for the choir’s CD project and do it in 24 hours.

“The most challenging piece was working with a deadline – and a tight deadline on top of that – and having people tell us we must create something in this small amount of time and then making it happen and it comes out well,” Gomez said.

The medley is one of three songs Gomez performed the principal arrangements for included on the upcoming 19-song CD, “A Season of Love.” The McNary choir is celebrating with a release concert at in the Ken Collins Theater McNary Tuesday, Nov. 16. Tickets for the first show are already sold out, but organizers have added a second show Thursday, Nov. 18. Both shows begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 in advance or at the door. Copies of the CD, which features members of seven McNary choirs, will be available at the show for $10 and samples can be heard online at www.keizertimes.com or www.choirproject.com. After the show, copies of the CD will be available at the school and at the project Web site.

Kayla Ellis, Josh Holt, Damaris Escobar, Stefani Kephart, Gerson Escobar and Natalie Clark rehearse for McNary choir program’s upcoming concert. (Keizertimes/Eric A. Howald)

“We’ve done everything on our own and it was a huge learning experience for us,” said Kameesha Lane, a 2009 graduate of McNary who is back working with the choir as a producer of the show. “We run our rehearsals, we put on the shows and I don’t think everyone realizes how much we do on our own.”

Choir members have been working on various aspects of the CD since last spring both rehearsing the tracks in class and performing them in various studios in the Salem area.

“It was a lot of laying down the same things over and over again trying to get the right sound,” said Sam Uelkerr, the jazz choir’s lead guitarist. “It’s been a little bit more professional than my previous times in the studio and the Marigold Studios where we were at was really awesome.”

“It was crazy to see how everything worked and how it all comes together,” added Tabitha White. “It was really intense.”

While putting the music together in the studio was a highlight for all involved, it also opened up their eyes to the many opportunities available in the music field.

“Before going into the studio, drumming was a hobby, but now it seems like it could be a career path and taken farther than just drumming in my school,” said Beau Brightwell. “It was amazing to see how many opportunities there are not just for playing music, but being involved in the music industry. There’s a lot of stuff to do.”

As a result of the effort put into the CD, McNary’s choir program is currently a semifinalist for the Grammy Signature School Award. The Celtic program is one of only 150 schools in the nation to be considered and two in Oregon. The choir program also qualified for the Grammy Signature School Enterprise Award, which offers grants to expand or offer more opportunities for at-risk kids and provide after-school opportunities.

At the end of the day, Gomez is content with the success he’s already enjoyed, even if it goes no further than one sold out show.

“I equate it to having a baby, the whole process is painful, but at the end you have this thing that leaves you speechless and you’re sitting there going, ‘This is mine,’” he said.

Free Downloads from CD

I Wonder/Carol of the Bells – 3:36

Use Somebody – 4:18

Purchase the CD or individual songs at www.choirproject.com