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January 8, 2005

Singing Tree looking for a new home

MLive.com (MI):

The Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree, a local Christmas season favorite so renowned that it once traveled to the White House, is seeking a home. Members of the Mona Shores Choir Association and church leaders at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, which has hosted the massive structure for two decades, have squabbled the last couple of years about the tree's future there. Choir and school officials say a move, possibly to the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, is being explored.

Shawn Lawton, who directs the choir, acknowledged moving the tree has been discussed, but didn't want to speculate as to what direction the relationship between the organization and the church is headed. "It's an extremely sensitive subject," said Lawton, who directs the choir.

Last year was the 20th in which students performed choral concerts at St. Francis de Sales while standing on a 53-foot-tall steel structure shaped like a Christmas tree. The tree frame holds more than 300 singers and weighs 30 tons when all are aboard. The performances, which almost always are sold out, are coordinated and funded by 200 volunteers. At issue is how the tree affects church services and its Christmas message.

The association has been "exploring" other sites, Kartes said. The tree will be set up in the Frauenthal May 22 to determine if the tree will fit vertically; also in question is whether the stage will bear the tree's full weight, which is equal to that of the Army's armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Even though the Singing Tree is not an "official" school event, Mona Shores Superintendent Terry Babbitt said it's one in which the district takes pride.

Thanks to a push from local fan and newly elected Muskegon County Treasurer Tony Moulatsiotis, Mona Shores High School's Singing Tree was invited to Washington, D.C., in 2002 to perform. With a $65,000 loan from the school board, the choir department sent a modified version with 90 students as opposed to the normal 300. Twenty-five students performed at the White House, while the entire group gave performances at other areas in the nation's capital.

Finding an alternate location for the mammoth structure is proving to be a challenge, said Kartes. "It was built and designed to be in St. Francis," he said. The association has a contract to hold the event in St. Francis de Sales Church and current plans are for the 2005 performance to be at the church. But it could be the last. "St. Francis is a beautiful setting. I'd hate to pull it out," Kartes said. More

Posted by acapnews at January 8, 2005 12:13 AM