Student:

Dan Matarazzo.

School: Upper Darby High School, where he is a senior.

What he has done: The 17-year-old from Drexel Hill has sung in district, region and state choirs, as well as the All-Eastern Chorus. Matarazzo, a tenor training to be an opera singer, also has belted out the national anthem to kick off football games and taken lead roles in school musicals, including as Javert in Les Miserables in his sophomore year.

He also is in the midst of his busiest time of year, as he and the other 31 members of the Upper Darby High School Encore Singers have around 10 performances this month. The school's top singers make up the group, which is drawn by audition from the 197-voice Upper Darby High School Concert Choir.

Question: Why do you think people enjoy Christmas music so much?

Answer: It really gets people into the mood for Christmas. You know, joy to the world, good will towards men, peace on earth - all those wonderful sentiments that really come around during the Christmas season.

Q: Since this is your busiest time of year, how do you find the time for everything else?

A: As much as we do do, there are days where we have off. It's a delicate balance. You learn to manage your time very well when you're doing all this stuff, plus homework and other outside activities. Like my church [Llanerch Presbyterian] gets very busy around this time of year. So I'm always singing with them.

Q: Favorite Christmas song?

A: I've always been partial to "The First Noel."

Q: In the choir, how does teamwork play a role?

A: Teamwork's very important especially with blending. Like I'm trained operatically. I'm trained in the classical voice. So it's tough to pull back, you know. You've got to kind of be very reserved. Once or twice this year, [Choral Director Barbara Benglian] has been like, "Hold back a little. Come on."

The entire thing is teamwork because a choir is only as strong as its weakest member. And it very much relies on every person in the group.

Q: Why does opera interest you?

A: I always kind of thought I had the voice for it. I started off with the piano. And so I really like piano, but I thought, I don't want to practice 14 hours a day. So then I went to singing and I started to get into musicals, and I was like, "Ah, I really like this."

[But] I just heard myself. And I'm like, "This isn't a Broadway voice. There's no way I have it. But I love to sing. What do I do?" Opera was my next [step].

I went to Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts my sophomore year, which was great. It was for vocal performance. It was like five-week voice boot camp. . . . It was a crash course on opera. How to sing, how to breathe, what to do. And I learned a little bit of repertoire from there. Some of it I'm using for my college auditions.

Q: How do you find playing the piano different from singing in the choir?

A: It's very different, because with piano, it's much more - especially if I ever accompany a choir - it's very much more like following and making sure you're on tempo and everything. Where singing is much more of an expression of, you know, what the feeling is at that time.

Q: How did you find your range was a tenor?

A: My voice didn't drop. Other people's dropped. So I kind of always thought I was a tenor. I mean in middle school the cool thing was to be a bass, but I could never really get down there.

Q: Since you started singing in third grade, how did it affect you when your voice changed?

A: It's very weird when your voice changes. Because you go from being able to sing the soprano notes down to like, "Oh, I can't get above that. I could before." I don't entirely remember my voice changing too much. I just remember that gradually it kind of started coming down, until I was pretty much stuck in the tenor range.

What a teacher says: "He's like my little Pavarotti," said Barbara Benglian, the high school's choral director since 1983. "He's the most exceptional tenor I've ever had . . . and he's just an exceptional human being."

- Ed Mahon