March 30, 2010

YouTube stars! Gifford Children's Choir get worldwide acclaim with Internet video

A local elementary school's choir is an Internet sensation.

The Gifford Children's Choir's performance of a song from a popular video game has spread around the world since it was posted on YouTube two days ago. The kids sing the song "Still Alive" by Jonathon Coulton from the credits of the game Portal.

Director Jon Senzig posted the video on his YouTube channel on Sunday. Since then, the video has attracted more than 186,000 293,000 views, more than 1,000 1,300 comments and dozens of blog posts around the world. People from Germany, Australia, Poland and India were among the viewers, and nearly 4,000 4,900 people labeled it a "favorite."

Senzig writes about the song and video post on his own blog here. Here's how he picked the song:
 I am a video game addict and fell off the wagon to play Portal.  My son kept telling me it was such an amazing game but I had to wait until I had 20 hours straight to play it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop.   Going to work with no sleep is no fun but I had to play it for “research” purposes. 
One of the reasons I chose this piece is because of the beautifully thin and pure quality the song calls for.  That is our usual tone color.
The Gifford Children's Choir is an all-volunteer choir that practices once a week for an hour and half before school. About 75 students between third and fifth graders are in the school's top choir, which performed "Still Alive" at Gifford Elementary on March 25. 

The choir sang the song in the dark and used flashlights to choreograph the show. Also, the soloist, a third-grader, wore a light-up dress designed by Gifford strings teacher Angela Janota-Peavler. Middle-schooler Hallie Senzig accompanied on bells, high-schooler Jeremy Peters played guitar and other adult volunteers contributed to the song. 

The Internet acclaim is the latest success for the choir, which, thanks to Senzig, has something of an international following. Senzig, with the support of the Dairy Statesman singing group, organized a competition last year to commission an original piece of music for the Gifford Children's Choir. Composers from around the world inquired about the contest, and entries were received from the U.S. and Brazil. 

A song by composer Harvey Sollberger was selected, and the choir debuted the composition at the Wisconsin Choral Directors Association's annual meeting in January. They were the only elementary school in the state to perform at the conference. 

Along with "Still Alive," which is a fairly simple choir piece, Senzig said his students perform high level compositions with three and four-part harmonies. At the school's concert last Thursday, where "Still Alive" was recorded, the choir performed three remarkably difficult pieces, Senzig said. 

"It was the hardest music I've ever done with kids," he said. "They really stretched for those performances." 

Local residents can get a chance to see the students perform "Still Alive" at UW-Parkside at 3:30 p.m. on May 2. The choir will also sing a song with the UW-Parkside choir and premiere a new piece by Alyssa Seversen of Eau Claire called “El Tiburron." Tickets for the show are $6 general admission, $4 for students, staff and seniors. For tickets, contact the Box Office at 595-2564 or email

All of the work done to organize and run the Gifford Children's Choir is volunteer, and the choir actually runs at a deficit to put on performances. Not even Senzig, who is a music teacher at the school, is paid to oversee the choir. 

Any contributions to help the Gifford Children's Choir are appreciated. If you are able to donate at this time, make checks out to Gifford School 8332 Northwestern Ave, Racine WI 53406 and turn them into me or the office with a note that it is a donation to “choir club.” Get a receipt and it should be tax deductible.

You can also donate to Senzig through PayPal at:

Update: Here's a video of the original song, which appears over the credits for the game "Portal" ...


  1. The cake is a lie!

    That being said, this was great.

  2. None of the following comment is an attack on good kids and their dedicated instructors. Even so, is this sort of thing education?

  3. No idea what this game is about - but the lyrics seem a bit much for a school performance. Perhaps I'll have to have a kid explain the game to me...

  4. Well done, It is proven that music helps kids learn core subjects like Math and Science. Guess some people are not as informed. Wonderful to see great things from schools other than the "precious".

  5. @11:07-- the article has a link to the Wikipedia entry for Portal, which gives you an overview of the game. It's a series of physics puzzles, for the most part.

  6. Great out-of-the-box thinking by the director of this choir!

  7. For those of you that know now what Portal is about, you play as a character that is trapped in an experimental facility. To survive, you have to get from point A to point B... all while avoiding lasers, turret guns, pitfalls and many other traps that will instantly kill you.

    While you are doing this, a computerized voice is telling you that your efforts are futile and you should just "give up". At one point, you come across an area where someone had obviously gone crazy and most likely took their own life.

    It's a great game that makes you think, but I don't see it as something that should be promoted to kids this young.