When the Payson Choral Society takes the stage Saturday for its annual "Songs of the Season" Christmas concert, a very familiar face will be in an unfamiliar place.
President Bill Backes, who has been singing with the group for a decade, was knocked out of commission this year by a bout with pneumonia.
"I'm really looking forward to this because this will be the first time in 10 years I get to sit in the audience and listen to these guys," he said.
Judging by the size of the audience at past holiday concerts, a lot of Rim Country residents share his enthusiasm. In fact, the event has become -- along with the Swiss Village lighting ceremony and the Electric Light Parade -- a local holiday tradition.
This year, according to Backes, the program will feature some less serious numbers.
"We've had suggestions in the past for some lighter pieces, so we're doing that this year, and we're going to have a nice singalong," he said.
Also on the program will be guest performances by Payson High School students Heidi Haworth and Ammon Carter who received $1,000 scholarships from the society. In fact, supporting music education is a big part of what the society is all about.
"This group was formed by people who like to sing, basically, but instead of just forming a town choir, they formed a bona fide 501c3 nonprofit organization," Backes said. "So the purpose of the financial side of the choir is to raise money to support music education for the youth of our city.
"For years we have given out $1,000 high school and $500 middle school scholarships. These kids have to audition, they have to sing a song for us, and then they have to perform at a concert.
"We have given out $4,700 this year in scholarships, and we bring Ken Goodenberger, a professionally-trained opera singer, up here three times a year to work with young people. It's a full day and we are able to touch the lives of 80-100 students.
"I'm very proud of how much we've increased the money we give away, but it's only possible because people contribute to us. It's not just the ticket sales."
Currently, the choir has 55 members, but its size fluctuates from a low of 48 to a high of 63. They put in a lot of hours getting ready for the holiday concert.
"This group tries very hard," Backes said. "You're talking 18 weeks these people practice for each concert, two-and-a-half hours a week, plus we ask them to do at least an hour or two during the week on their own."
And they also pay their own way.
"We all pay dues, we all buy our own costumes, so all the ticket and contribution money goes to scholarships, for buying music and for paying our conductor and pianist," Backes said. "Music has gotten so expensive; in some cases it's $2 apiece."
They do it all for a simple reason.
"We're there to support everybody who likes to sing," Backes said. "You can't be this dedicated to something if you don't love singing."
"Songs of the Season," directed by Daria Mason with accompaniment by Victoria Harris, will take place Saturday at the Payson High School auditorium, with performances at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Concert tickets are $8.00 for adults, $3.00 for students ages 12 to 18, and free for children ages 11 and under. Tickets may be purchased in advance from choral society members, and at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Payson Roundup, and the Payson Public Library. Tickets will also be available at the door before each concert.