It’s Saturday at 2pm and I should be sitting in the War Memorial Auditorium in Greensboro, proudly supporting our four Northwood singers amid the 800+ high school singers from across North Carolina at this year’s NC High School All-State Choral Festival. We would have gathered on Thursday night, then spent A LONG day rehearsing (morning, afternoon, and into the evening) divided into three choirs—the NC Music Education Association (NCMEA) 9-10th Choir, the American Choral Directors’ Association (ACDA) Women’s Choir, and the NCMEA 11-12th Choir.
Two Northwood singers are returning for their 2nd and 3rd years, and they know what an exciting weekend it is. Meeting, singing, and sharing with peers (did I tell you it’s more than 800 high school singers?) “from Murphy to Manteo.” Learning new music, historical background, technique, getting to work with talented college instructors, and measuring their skill and preparation with the group at large. Maybe thinking about getting to sing in college. And performing with perhaps one of the largest groups and for their largest audience ever. For the other two, this would have been a brand new experience. Also, this is one of the first big activities for our new choral director, Matthew Hanson. It’s his first year at Northwood and his first year teaching. What a great chance to meet and talk and learn and observe with colleagues from across North Carolina. And he’s a UNC-G graduate, so it’s all happening right in his back yard.
This was to be my third trip as Girl Friday and official NHS Arts cheerleader. Our previous choral director, Marilyn Shugart, began having her students participate in All-State, and it was a tremendous boost for our choral program. It’s fascinating to watch how talented musicians can come together, focus intensively for 24 hours, and create this remarkable event. You get to hear standard choral repertoire as well as new contemporary works, and even world premieres commissioned especially for the festival.
As a member of the Duke Chapel Choir, I get to experience something not unlike this. I am fortunate to sing regularly in a group of more than 100, and very occasionally in a choir of up to 300 for special events, performing some of the world’s most gorgeous music literature and working with the most gifted musicians in the entire region. We occasionally talk about the fact that singers may never know the impact that their music has on a congregation, an audience, or to people who listen on the radio, TV or thru the Web.
Alas, perhaps our only “weather event” of the winter has cancelled this year’s festival. It’s not hard to understand why such a massive undertaking cannot be re-scheduled—the coordinator, Beverly Alt, has tremendous responsibilities securing the hotel rooms, the rehearsal venue, the performance hall, the clinicians, the accompanists, the assistants, the administrative work, the multiple sectional rehearsal personnel and spaces. So I’m sure the disappointment is much greater for her and her colleagues. But today I think about the converse of not knowing the impact of your efforts —the impact of the missed opportunity for talented young singers.
I went back to some video from last year and it will show you most clearly what may have been lost. This is the finale from the 2012 festival, featuring the 11-12th Choir. The conductor is a marvelous, dynamic instructor from the University of Miami, Dr. Karen Kennedy. [read an excellent profile here, and you'll get a sense of why she was a perfect choice to conduct.] The accompanist is Gwen Hall, choral director of Southwestern Randolph High School, with degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and her Masters from the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign.
Think about this. You’re a director in Florida, selecting music in the fall for a January performance in NC with 300 kids you’ve never met, and with whom you will only get to work for less than two days. You choose this song to end your program and it includes a solo. You don’t know who will audition. In Greensboro, more than 40 brave singers stepped forward at the end of the day on Friday to apply. Many were quite good and well prepared. Many would have done fine work. And as you can see from Dr. Kennedy’s profile, this is a regular part of her professional work. But sometimes, a young man like Demarcus walks through the door. And there is magic … The soloist, the conductor, the music, the pianist, the choir, the audience together JUST ONCE, for just 5 minutes that will never come again. Watch …