WASHINGTON – It was hard to tell what excited Cashell Elementary School students more — singing in the White House or just missing the president’s dog, Buddy, who padded past just minutes before they sang.
But the 15 fifth graders were clearly excited by something Thursday afternoon as they sang and danced their way through one-and-a-half-hour Christmas set that included “Jingle Bell Rock” — by far the students’ favorite — and “Let it Snow” at a White House replete with garlands and elaborate Christmas Trees.
“I like singing here because it is pretty and the people say how good we are,” said Amanda Ostria, 11.
The Rockville school choir was one of six Maryland musical groups slated to perform this month at the White House, which is bringing in groups from 31 states to entertain for the holidays.
The Barnesville School from Montgomery County was scheduled to perform Thursday night and Darnestown’s Perpetual Motion Suzuki Strings was there Monday. Upcoming White House performances by Maryland groups include Chestertown Middle School on Monday; the Maryland Singers of Owings Mills on Wednesday; and Gaithersburg’s St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church Choir on Dec. 19.
Catherine Lelyveld of the first lady’s press office said that groups apply weeks in advance for the chance to mesmerize White House crowds, with schools from all over the country sending audition tapes to the White House social office.
The Cashell students, though, had a little more than luck on their side this year, the second consecutive year that the school’s fifth-grade choir has gone to the White House — they had the help of an insider.
Secret Service agent Bob Campbell’s daughter Brittany, 11, is in the choir, said other Cashell parents. Campbell led the students and a select number of parents on an extensive White House tour before their appearance.
Brittany, who had been to the White House many times, was not so excited about Thursday’s trip, but her classmates looked gleeful at the smiles from their audience of senior citizens, who applauded with every song.
The children, clad in white shirts and dark bottoms, danced along with the lyrics and choir leader Jennifer Boice’s guitar in a room with portraits of past presidents and a display of Christmas cards of modern White House occupants.
Groups do not learn whether they are selected until just three weeks before they perform and have to squeeze in their practicing in that time. But John Skyles, who has led tours and sold souvenirs in the White House for 25 years, said that the practicing pays off.
“It makes it a lot more fun to work here with all the kids singing,” he said.
Nancy Horan, who was there with 10-year-old daughter Julia, said that the children may not yet understand what a “special treat” singing in the White House is, although they were very excited to be there.
Horan said that the students probably will not realize how special their White House visits were until next year, when Brittany moves off to middle school and their chances of additional appearances are numbered.
Julia Horan wasn’t focused on any of that Thursday, however. For her, the day was special for a different reason.
“We get to miss reading,” she said. “That is the best part.”