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Estacada High vocalists, musicians light up Grotto festival

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Musicians and vocalists from Estacada High School perform at The Grotto's Festival of Lights on Thursday, Dec. 17. Although Portland schools were banned from performing there, Estacada officials decided it is a valuable learning experience.

While choirs from Portland high schools were barred from singing at The Grotto’s Festival of Lights, Estacada High School’s choirs and brass ensemble performed there Thursday, Dec. 17.

The festival, in its 28th year, features more than 150 church, civic and school choirs. The Grotto’s chapel, at 8840 N.E. Skidmore St., is known for its cathedral-quality acoustics.

This year, Portland Public Schools choirs were told not participate in the event after a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group that promotes the separation between church and state. The foundation had concerns with students performing at a religious venue and where admission is charged.

Estacada High School Choir Director Rendell Frunk said the school district discussed its participation in the event and ultimately decided to continue.

“It’s a valuable musical experience,” he said.

The event is popular among Estacada’s student musicians.

“Being there is incredible,” said Emma Rathbun. “It’s my favorite place to sing.”

Myranda Pool agreed, saying “It really brings us together during the holidays.” ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - The Grotto is covered with lights for its Christmas celebrations.

The group sang a variety of songs, but many agreed that their favorite was  “Betelehemu,” a Nigerian Christmas carol.

“You kind of dance to it, and get your whole body involved,” said Mason Crasle. “It’s really energetic.”

The students were glad to be able to continue participating in the event. Sarah Irelan said many students were worried about not being able to perform after learning that Portland schools had opted out.

“It was that moment where you freak out and think, ‘Wait a second, what?’” she said.

“We were all texting each other and talking about how we had to go,” Rathbun said. “We were all on the verge of an uproar.”

Frunk is equally passionate about the event.

“I think it would have been an insult to the intelligence of our students to not go,” he said, adding that students are able to decide their own religious beliefs without being influenced by the event.

“They’re smarter than that,” he said. Ultimately, he “trusts students to make informed choices.”