Victor Ornelas and Daniel Bojorquez had to be at Tucson International Airport for a 4 a.m. flight Tuesday, but they weren't complaining.

The boys are part of the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and on Thursday they'll be performing at the National Tree Lighting ceremony in Washington, D.C.

It's the third time the chorus has been invited to the ceremony, which will be broadcast Dec. 9 at 6 p.m.  on REELZ and 7 p.m. on Ovation. The last time the chorus performed at the event was 1991. Prior to that, it was 1963.

Julian Ackerley, who has directed the group since 1980, is thrilled they were invited again.

"It was truly an extraordinary experience and these boys will have the same experience," he said.

Ornelas, 14, Borjorquez, 13, and the rest of the chorus are also slated to perform privately for the U.S. Senate.

"It's very exciting," said Ornelas, an eighth-grader at Anza Trail School. "Not very many people have the opportunity to do this so I'm pretty excited."

This is Ornelas' sixth season with the chorus. When he was a third-grader at Copper View Elementary School he came home with a flier announcing auditions, his mom, Hilda, recalled.

Since he was always singing in the shower and singing country songs along with the radio, she wasn't surprised he wanted to give it a shot. 

Two weeks after the audition, he was invited to join the training chorus, which at that time was the entry-level point, Hilda said. He eventually moved up through the ranks to the touring group last year.

"He was like any other kid," she remembers. "I didn't know it was going to be this special. I never thought of him doing it professionally."

She was shocked when they learned the touring group had been invited to the tree lighting ceremony. Despite all of the hard work the boys put in, she wasn't expecting such a high honor.

The boys have been rehearsing practically every day since the invitation was extended in October. Typically, they rehearse 90 minutes three days a week. They perform all year long, but December is a busy month, with sometimes up to four performances in a single day, she said.

"You'd be surprised at how hard they work," she said.

They gave a sneak preview of what they'll be singing during an appearance Monday in Sahuarita by state Treasurer Kimberly Yee. 

Last summer, the boys traveled to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon. This summer they'll be touring Scotland, England and Ireland.

Hilda Ornelas doesn't think her son has truly absorbed how big an event Thursday will be.

"I think I'm more nervous than him," she said. "I think it will sink in when he gets there and is on stage and sees all of those people."

On the road

Rio Rico resident Diana Bojorquez is also excited and nervous for her son.

Daniel, who attends Desert Shadows Middle School, auditioned for the chorus three years ago after his piano teacher told him about the group. He was made a member of the touring group almost immediately. He's been singing in front of crowds since he was a kindergartner performing in his school's talent show.

She, her husband and Daniel's little sister, Danika, are all sports enthusiasts, but not Daniel, she said. He just loves to sing and travel.

He was with Ornelas when the chorus traveled to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon, but he's also been to China and San Carlos.

Making the trek to Tucson for rehearsals and other performances is worth it, she said.

"It's more hectic for us, but it's what he loves. We've got to do it," she said.

Both boys said the chorus allows them to make friends and travel. They both said they're sad because this is their last year with the chorus; they're graduating. 

"It's been a really great opportunity," Ornelas said. "It's really fun and you get to go to places you've never dreamed of. You get to meet new people and learn how to become a gentleman."

He'll still get to see many of his friends — his brother, Adrian, 7, joined the chorus last year.

"It's very fun and very exciting. It's been a great experience," Bojorquez said. "Dr. Ackerley is very nice and fun. I've been honored to work with him." 

Both teens are considering auditioning for the Tucson Arizona Young Men's Ensemble next year. The ensemble is comprised of high school and college students. Both are considering pursuing acting careers.

For now though, they're focused on their Thursday performance and everything else the nation's capital has in store for them.

Ornelas is particularly fond of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and Bojorquez loves "Carol of the Bells."

High on Ornelas' sightseeing list is the Smithsonian and both are excited for their private tour of the White House.

"I'd be shocked to see the president and nervous," Bojorquez said.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

Assistant Editor Kim Smith moved to Arizona from Michigan when she was 16. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism in 1989. She has worked at seven newspapers of varying size in Arizona, Texas and Nevada.

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