By Johnny Jackson
The energy of the crowd enveloped them, the bright Turner Field stadium lights beamed on their young faces, as they began to sing the "The Star Spangled Banner."
Nine-year-old Peyton Guy recalled a calm that flowed over the anxious group of young singers as they sang the national anthem, during the opening of an Atlanta Braves baseball game Friday, April 15.
"At first, I was kind of nervous, but then I felt OK," said Guy, a fourth-grader at Dutchtown Elementary School in Hampton. "I was really eager to sing with the chorus and Ms. Long."
The game -- the first in a three-game series against the New York Mets -- was postponed, and later canceled due to inclement weather. Still, the cast of singers made its mark on the crowd, said the chorus' director, Heidi Long.
Long said 78 students, between Dutchtown and Mt. Carmel elementary schools, performed together for the first time on Friday.
Long took a 40-member choral group from Dutchtown to sing the national anthem during pre-game ceremonies at an Atlanta Braves home game in 2009.
The music educator said, when she was invited to send another group of performers this year, she was faced with having to request expanding her choral group to nearly double the previous number.
Long is one of dozens of music and art teachers in the Henry County School System whose job responsibilities were expanded this school year, as a result of budget-cutting measures. She now supports full-time music programs at two schools, Dutchtown and Mt. Carmel.
"I want to make sure that children are not neglected," said Long, of her decision to try to include both choral groups. "They represented Henry County very well."
The fourth- and fifth-graders rehearsed for about a month leading up to their Turner Field performance, according to Long. She said each school chorus rehearsed separately until the night of the performance, when they performed together for the first time.
"The sound felt different than what we usually sound like," said 11-year-old Faith Daniels, noting the fuller sound of the combined choirs. "Whenever we came together, our voices connected.
"I was excited, because it was my first time there, and there were a lot of people in the stands," added the Dutchtown fifth-grader.
Part of the invitation to sing the national anthem at an Atlanta Braves home game was the opportunity to conduct a school-wide fund-raiser through the sell of game day tickets, explained Long.
A percentage of proceeds earned from the sell of the tickets went to support school-level initiatives. Long said Dutchtown raised money for its Accelerated Reader Program, while Mt. Carmel was able to raise money for its Fine Arts Day, to be held on May 5.
"We did such a great job," said Long, of those who contributed to fund-raising efforts. Long cited her efforts to make music fun and exciting for her students by taking annual field trips to venues such as Disney World and Turner Field.
"Research proves that if they are involved in music, for the future, their test scores are higher, too," she said. "The big thing is to instill music in them for the love of music."