When Aiken turned 175 in 2010, the residents were treated to a full-blown birthday bash.
Before that winter celebration took place, music teacher Diane Haslam sat down and reflected on the occasion.
It was summer, and Haslam’s adult group Aiken Singers were already invited to the event.
“I thought, ‘We need something special to perform,’” Haslam said. “So, I started messing around with words and ideas.”
A professional musician, Haslam finally pinned down the right images. Those images linked together to create Haslam’s final tune – “Aiken at Christmas.”
The chorus debuted the song at the celebration and has sang it every year since.
Two years ago, member Judy Justice thought it was time to do something more.
“I want people to see that Diane’s given such a wonderful gift to Aiken and how it demonstrates the charm of Aiken,” Justice said.
Together, with member Jane Popiel, Justice and Haslam created “Aiken at Christmas: A Watercolor Music Story.”
Designed to the lyrics of Haslam’s song are more than 30 watercolor images painted by Popiel. Popiel has studied watercolor and art for more than 30 years.
The book is printed by Howell Printing with the help of Mitch Ambrose. It will be released early next month.
From the time of Justice’s proposal to more recent months, Justice and Popiel hunted for the right images.
“When you think about Aiken at Christmas, we have this wonderful image of Aiken decorated and all decked out for Christmas,” Justice said.
The two collected and took pictures of The Willcox, Hopelands Gardens, Plum Pudding, Aiken Brewing Company, South Boundary and much more.
As she was skimming the final collection, Popiel landed on an image of a scene on Laurens Street.
“This is one of my favorites,” she said.
The scene was something Popiel just happened upon.
It was Christmastime, and she really wanted a picture of the jolly old man himself – Santa Clause. So, she traveled downtown, and when she got out of her car, her wish came true.
“All I could see in the distance was Santa coming towards me,” she said.
As she walked, two young women parked nearby jumped from their cars. One rushed to Santa’s side. The other took a photo. Close by, Popiel snapped a shot of her own.
“Perfect timing,” Popiel said, smiling as she looked upon her painted print.
At the back of the book is a holiday CD featuring the Aiken Singers and “Aiken at Christmas.”
The following musicians assisted with the recording: Karlton Timmerman, Adriane Fox, David Brown, Greg Carter and Pat Adams. Adams is the Aiken Singers’ regular accompanist. The CD was recorded at Studio South Productions in Martinez, Georgia, with the assistance of music engineer Howard Lovett.
The Aiken Singers will host a soft opening of their new book at the Aiken Artist Guild’s next meeting on Sept. 8.
When released, the book will be sold at 3 Monkeys Fine Gifts, Lionel Smith Ltd., Plum Pudding, Joye Cottage, Material Things, Apizza di Napoli and Aiken Office Supply. Popiel’s prints are also on sale.
All book proceeds will go towards the Aiken Singers, its Diane Haslam Vocal Performance Scholarship and its youth group.
The scholarship is “intended to benefit high school seniors studying or living in Aiken, Barnwell and Edgefield Counties who are committed to the study of vocal performance at the college/university level,” according to the group’s website.
The youth group is Belles Canto, another creation of Haslam’s. This group consists of female singers ages 12 to 18.
Haslam has lived in Aiken for 10 years.
“It’s just the perfect little place,” she said. “Christmas is that time of year that can highlight how beautiful Aiken is.”
Justice, who has been in Aiken for more than five years, hopes this book will help others really look at the city itself.
“They not only will see Aiken at this special time, but they once again get to think about, “You know, how pretty is that post office or The Willcox, Hopelands Gardens, Hitchcock Woods,’” she said. “These are places in this small town that are just extraordinary, and they need to be treasured and to be thought about.”
For more information on purchasing prints, call Gretchen Berger at 803-642-8397.
For more information on the book, call Justice at 803-649-3300.
For more information on the Aiken Singers, visit www.aikensingers.org.
Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.
Submitted Photo by Lista’s Studio of Photography The three women behind “Aiken at Christmas: A Watercolor Music Story” are, from left, Jane Popiel, Diane Haslam and Judy Justice.×
Submitted Photo “Aiken at Christmas: A Watercolor Music Story” benefits the Aiken Singers, the group’s scholarship and the group’s youth group, Belles Canto. The current members are Mary Barnett, Minyon Beard, Gretchen Berger, Gail Boule, Carol Cutsinger, Sam Dack, Lee Davidson, Richard Eichler, Jan Epting, Andy Goslen, Susan Hall, Barbara Harris, Ken Hofstetter, Marilyn Hofstetter, Gary Ikens, Dee Irvin, Judy Justice, Karen Keller, Debbie Lindberger, Michael Martin, Jack McElwee, Lawrette McCann, Jan Williams, Joan Miller, Pat Missildine, Cathy Moore, David Muhlbaier, Paulette Owens, Cynthia Padgett, Debbie Pawley, Terrance Phillips, Jim Pierce, Jane Popiel, Helen Reynolds, Bette Roth, Phyllis Roy, Tom Rupsis, Virginia Schultz, Ernie Squarzini and Janeth Welch. Director and founder Diane Haslam is pictured center, atop the stairs.×
Aiken Standard File Photo A child enjoys Christmas at Hopelands, an event depicted in the Aiken Singers’ new book, “Aiken at Christmas: A Watercolor Music Story.”×