Dolly Kuykendall asked to see a show of hands: "Who's done this arrangement before? Everyone? Oh good, then it should be perfect the first time through."

It wasn't.

The singers laughed and struggled and grimaced late last week through a rendition of "Joy to the World," a song many hadn't sung since they were students in her husband's choir at Jenkintown High School decades ago.

"Not bad," she said.

Frank Kuykendall died in 2006.

Memories of him did not. Some of his students - many, it turns out - cited his choir as their best high school memory.

"I remember on the night of a concert, he'd stand in front of us and go - " said Sue Price, pointing to the huge smile on her face. "Because it was supposed to be fun, you know?"

So an idea started bubbling on Facebook. Soon several dozen alumni - now in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, married with children and grandchildren, scattered across the East Coast - agreed to come together this week for a performance in his honor.

On Saturday, sheltered inside the Jenkintown firehouse from the rain, they opened the town's holiday tree-lighting ceremony with Frank Kuykendall's arrangement of "Joy to the World."

Alan Crosman, Class of '67, said the last time he sang it was in 1974, in another choir in Indiana. "The choral director handed out the sheet music, and it was Mr. Kuykendall's arrangement," he said. "I didn't even know he had published it."

Crosman remembered it well, and his booming bass helped ground the chords Thursday as his fellow alumni worked their way back into the notes.

The singers may have been rusty, but Dolly Kuykendall (pronounced KIGH-ken-doll) was not. She tapped her foot, clapped to keep them on beat, and conducted with the firm but forgiving grace of a woman 60 years into her musical theater career.

At 84, Kuykendall is still directing, working on the spring production of Shrek at the Jenkintown Theatre Company.

In less than an hour, she had whipped them into a passable rendition. With another rehearsal Friday, and more voices joining in, they hoped they would be ready for the big stage Saturday.

"Frank was very free with his fortes. Forte forte forte! Sing your guts out!" she urged.

On Saturday evening, they did. The gathering was as much about remembering the good old days as it was about the singing.

Kathy Lansing ('81), who organized the concert and opened her Jenkintown home for rehearsals, said Frank Kuykendall made everyone take elocution lessons.

"He used to say, 'It's not hooow nooow brooown cow,' " she said. "Even now, in business meetings, people tell me, 'Oh, you speak so well!' It's because of him."

Her husband, Ted Histand ('79) watched from the banister, wistfully recalling when he had long blonde hair and "an angelic voice."

Frank Kuykendall kicked Histand out of the choir in eighth grade, when that angelic voice changed. Now, he said, he sings only to get on his wife's nerves during long car trips.

Across the living room, others were piecing together the lyrics of some of the "silly little ditties" Frank Kuykendall taught them - something about cinnamon and fruitcake, and a weekly Friday song that some of the boys would sing backward.

Frank Kuykendall was always kind and gentle, said Marie Damm. But on occasion when he got angry, "his ears would turn bright red. . . . He always wanted us to sing on key."

His wife - who knew these students too, as the school's former guidance counselor - shares her husband's kindly pursuit of perfection.

"This time sing it on pitch," she said, quickly adding, "I did not mean that."

"This group will be a comedy act," she said, quickly adding, "I did not mean that."

"Have we upset the cat?" she said. "He came and left."

610-313-8117 @JS_Parks