The annual holiday open house at the Governor's Mansion attracted a record crowd of cookie tasters and cider sippers on Wednesday - plus bell-ringing, carol-singing entertainers and a traveling volleyball team.
The eight-member Gustavus School volleyball team - consisting of every high-school-age girl at the school - stopped in during a layover on the way to the state tournament in Anchorage. It was the first time any of them had been to the event. The team had its picture taken with Gov. Tony Knowles and first lady Susan Knowles.
"I think it's a great opportunity for the kids," coach Rachel Parks said.
The open house set a record with 3,862 guests, according to house manager Karen Newton. The previous record of 3,204 was set last year, she said, and the event typically drew about 2,000 people earlier in the Knowles' administration.
The chance to play to such a large, diverse audience is something the performers appreciate.
"It's a wonderful experience ... to get us out in the public eye," said Juneau-Douglas High School Choral Ensemble member Megan Clough.
"It's for the people," JDHS senior Matthew Monagle said. "We bring the concert to them."
JDHS choral director Susan Horst said the open house is a great way to offer attendees the chance to hear a variety of music and to foster support of music programs in the schools and the community.
Two Resurrection Lutheran Church handbell choirs - the adult Celebration Ringers and the high-school-age Ring Out! - were the first performers of the afternoon.
Group member Brittany Sarkesian, a JDHS freshman, said her impression of the event was "a lot of people and cameras," but said she enjoyed the atmosphere and the chance to perform.
"It's a lot of work, but it's fun," said director Lucy Merrell. "We get an extra chance to perform our Christmas music."
Other groups included the JDHS Brass Quintet and Instrumental Ensemble, Juneau Jubilee, Ursa Major, Juneau Christian School Carolers, Alaska Youth Choir, Victorian Carolers and Glacier Valley Baptist Messengers.
Open house guests said they enjoyed the food, music and decorations both inside the house and outside - where the line to get in at times stretched nearly halfway around the building.
Open house musicians - even those who have performing there for years - said they still look forward to singing or playing each December.
"It never gets old," Clough said.
But, added JDHS senior Dorothy Freeman-Ittig, "it just gets easier."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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