GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The scratchy green seats that once filled Northview High School’s auditorium in Grand Rapids are gone. Plush red seats have taken their place thanks to ongoing renovations.

Many of the school’s first-ever a cappella choir members are also gone now, having moved on to college. Still, their voices will forever remain, thanks to a unique opportunity their choir director created for them.

Jack Phillipson started the a cappella group From the Top in the 2019-2020 school year. He was blown away by how well the group did right off the bat.

“They were really successful with competitions. They were able to win a big competition. We were like, whoa, we have something here,” he said.

The group earned a spot in a prestigious competition in Chicago. But unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit as they prepared for the event.

“We had hotels picked, the transportation was laid out, everything was ready to go, and then they canceled it, just like everything that happened in those weeks,” Phillipson said.

Through the disappointment, Phillipson saw a unique opportunity to create a lifelong memory of their success that year, using the music they had worked so hard to perfect. In addition, he had connections that allowed them to create a safe space to record an album.

“We would perform individually or with one other student and then we would leave and the person, a different person, would come in the next hour and sing their part,” said Abi Martin, who was 15 years old at the time of the recording.

Although it wasn’t the competition they had all dreamed of, Phillipson thinks the recording process created opportunities for the students to stretch their vocal abilities in a way a live performance doesn’t. He would challenge them to reach beyond what they think they could do and try new things, knowing they could always delete the track if it did not work out.

“All of a sudden, we’d get that take, and when it’s over, it’s just a euphoric feeling of ‘I just did that, and we have it forever,” he said.

It took more than a year and a half to take the recorded tracks and turn them into a full album, so the students heard it for the first time earlier this year.

Martin, 17, could not contain her emotion.

“I think I cried the first time I heard some of the songs — it’s crazy. You forget how much effort you put into those things until you hear it back. It feels like a reward,” said Martin.

Brendan Patterson joined the group this year.

“Hearing (Martin) in the recording and the other people, hearing them at that caliber made me feel like, hey, that could be me.”

As the singers work on their new material this year, they are also rehearsing in a newly updated space.

In addition to the red seats, there is a new lighting system in the auditorium and improved acoustics. Soon, the old blue curtain will be replaced as well.

“We get to go to those classic burgundy curtains you expect to see when you walk into a great show,” Phillipson said.

The auditorium hosts various events, including concerts for elementary, middle and high school groups, musicals, plays and other gatherings.

Live performances are what Phillipson prefers for his students, but he does plan to record more albums in the future.

The school started a music production course this year, so any future albums will feature the talents of even more students, who will then have a forever reminder of their hard work at Northview High School.