'A message of hope': Choirs join together for concert on teen suicide awareness

Arapahoe High School, Colorado Saints Chorale strive to bring positivity to shaken community

The Arapahoe High School choirs joined with the Colorado Saints Chorale and Orchestra for a concert Oct. 23 at St. Tim's Episcopal Church in Centennial to raise awareness of teen suicide, something that has rocked the high school for years. 
Since 2013, Arapahoe High School in Centennial, a Littleton Public Schools high school, has suffered nine student suicides that included two students who took their own lives just three days apart in 2018. 
For Kirk R. Schjodt, director of choirs for Arapahoe High School, the concert and the preparation for it allowed for an open discussion about youth suicide that he felt was needed. 
“This was a really great opportunity for me as a teacher to talk with my students about some of the things that they'd experienced,” Schjodt said, “and to get students' input on how we could use our art form to bring a powerful statement of positivity and support into a community that was really hurting.”
Originally scheduled for April 20, 2020, the concert was postponed due to COVID-19. Now, more than a year later, the two student choir groups, one with 31 members and the other with 40, sang to bring awareness to a topic that is personal for them. 
“The students in this program, they've been touched by the tragedy that's taken place in Littleton Public Schools,” Schjodt said. “They know the hurt of losing someone they care about and they know what it's like to struggle.” 
Camden Krumholz, a 17-year-old senior at Arapahoe High School who sang during the event Saturday, said she knew a fellow class member who died by suicide when she was in the eight grade at John Wesley Powell Middle School. 
She said the months of rehearsals that culminated with Saturday's performance was rewarding but at times challenging as students grappled with feelings of loss. 
“I've found it's been very emotional, personally,” Krumholz said. “It's been kind of difficult but it's something we've worked through and worked very hard on.”
Working with other students as they prepared for the concert spurred overdue conversations around suicide, she said. 
“It's brought up a lot of great conversations that have needed to happen for years,” Krumholz said. 
And the students are not alone. 
Lisa Comstock, president of the faith-based Colorado Saints Chorale and Orchestra, which has 75 singing members and around 50 in their orchestra, said through their participation in the concert members have opened up more about losing loved ones to suicide.
“My own mom suffered with depression and suicidal thoughts,” Comstock said. “Within our organization, we've grieved together.”
Comstock said the group is emotionally connected with the high school, where all five of her children graduated from. The group has also sung with the high school choirs in the past. 
The chorale and orchestra has a long history of connecting with communities. Since 1983, it has put on various concerts throughout the Denver metro area to spread an uplifting message.
“We work within the area to put on events that matter to them, that help them build relationships in the community or put out a message of hope,” she said.
Hope was at the center of Saturday's concert. 
One of the songs performed, titled “Please Stay,” written by Jake Runestad, ushered lyrics of belonging to remind listeners that they are welcomed, loved and valued. 
“It's not a somber feeling, but it's a celebratory feeling, it's a feeling of intent, of meaning,” Comstock said. “We're driven to make a difference with this concert.” 
The concert also featured an art exhibit by Brady Smith, a young artist whose art, previously featured at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, tells the story of the reasons why he chose not to take his own life. 
Comstock said that following Saturday's concert, the chorale and orchestra intend to partner with choirs to put on suicide awareness and benefit concerts every year throughout Colorado. 
For Schjodt, the high school choirs director, he hopes the performance helped listeners who maybe needed the message. 
“The students want to share the fact that there's hope,” he said. “Hope is real, help is real for people who are struggling … for folks who are struggling, they don't have to struggle alone.”


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