Kara Sandquist had heard all about the Palatine High School's choir performance at the White House three years ago, when her older sister Kylen went as a choir member.
So Kara especially was proud to do the same with the school group Midnight Blues on Saturday.
"The White House is so beautiful. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come here, let alone sing here. Being able to do what she did and kind of follow in her footsteps, it's really special," said Kara, a senior.
Altogether, 41 students and 10 adults went on the trip, said choir director Steve Sivak. The group left Palatine by bus at 6:30 a.m. Friday, arriving in Alexandria, Va., at 11 p.m. The next morning, they performed for White House visitors, singing songs such as "Home for the Holidays," "Let it Snow" and "Hannukah in Santa Monica."
The group planned to sing again during a night illumination tour of the capital's monuments Saturday night and possibly on Sunday during more sightseeing.
They were scheduled to leave Sunday night and be in Palatine by 7:30 a.m. Christmas Eve.
"It's really exciting, but it's also exhausting," Sivak said.
Choir member Michael Nicholas, a junior, said the White House is stunning.
"There was a moment where we looked around, and it was like, 'Oh my God, we're in the White House.' The room where we were -- the floors were beautiful, the walls were beautiful, all these trees around us. It was gorgeous," Michael said. "It was one of the best times of my life."
The group had hoped, to no avail, to catch a glimpse of President Barack Obama, Michael said. The Obamas left Washington, D.C., on Friday to spend Christmas in Hawaii.
After the 2009 performance, the Palatine choir got an invite to try out for a performance in 2010, but they couldn't make it, Sivak said. When the invite came again this year, they went for it.
"We filled out the application, sent links to our music. They contacted me in November to tell me we were in," Sivak said.
The choir's six-member brass ensemble also performed at the White House on Dec. 15.
Students paid $450 each to go on the trip, $100 less if they planned to go on the choir's spring trip to Hawaii; the cost was also offset by past fundraising and this year's poinsettia sale, Sivak said.