By Jason Wesseldyk
Choirs from Otsego High School and Plainwell High School were among those to participate in the District 10 Choral Festival hosted by the Michigan School Vocal Music Association earlier this month.
And the students from both local school made quite an impression on the event’s judges.
OHS’s Chamber Singers and Bell Voce choirs each received a ranking of “I,” as did the Plainwell Choir. As a result, those choirs will perform at the State Choral Festival at the beginning of May.
The district festival had originally been scheduled for the end of February, but had to be postponed due to poor weather conditions.
Meredith Lincoln is the vocal music director at Otsego.
“I was so very proud of the students,” Lincoln said. “With festival getting rescheduled, they all made choir and festival a priority and had outstanding performances.”
Plainwell vocal music director Denise Beauchamp shared similar feeling about her students.
“I could not possibly be any more proud of our choir students,” she said. “They sang with accuracy, intention and passion. And the judges were overwhelmingly complimentary of our choir’s ability to take on such challenging repertoire and to perform it at such a high level.”
For the district festival, each choir prepares two contrasting choral pieces to sing in front of four judges. The judges score each choir on six different categories: tonal quality elements, pitch elements, rhythm elements, diction elements, interpretation elements and presentation elements.
Each judge provides a score of 1 through 5 on each of those elements.
Then, following a meeting with one of the judges during which feedback is given, choirs perform a sight reading exercise to demonstrate their ability to read music by performing a variety of melodic examples. The judge then provides scores based on accuracy of pitch and rhythm, with those scored combined with the earlier scores to produce an overall score.
The rankings are as follows: “I” (Excellent), “II” (Good), “III” (Fair) or “IV” (Developing).
“The students were very excited to qualify for state, but also had a lot of questions,” Lincoln said of the OHS choirs. “To my knowledge, none of these students have ever attended a state choral festival before.”
For the district festival, the Otsego Chamber Singers performed the songs “Lightning” by Greg Gulpin and “Omnia Sol” by Z. Randall Stroope. The OHS Bella Voce, meanwhile, sang “Keep Your Lamps” arranged by Victor C. Johnson and “And Nature Smiled” by Allen Koepke.
“I choose songs that I knew will be a challenge to the students, but will also allow them to be successful and feel accomplished and proud when they finish,” Lincoln said of her song selections.
The Plainwell High School Choir students performed “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridson, and “Gaudete” by Michael Englehardt.
“I selected these particular songs because I felt they were ready for a challenge unlike anything they’d ever experienced in choir thus far,” Beauchamp said. “That included our seniors who’ve been involved in our music program for several years, some since sixth grade.
“Learning and performing these songs are experiences in and of themselves, and I’m so proud of our choir students for having embraced an incredible challenge. They’ve come so far as musicians.”
After hearing the news that they’d received a “I” rating and would be heading to the state festival, the Plainwell students shared “smiles, cheers, applause, congratulations, high-fives and hugs all around,” according to Beauchamp.
At the state festival, students will be required to sing the two songs they performed at district festival in addition to an unaccompanied piece. Choirs will receive a 15-minute warm-up period, a 15-minute performance time and then a 15-minute clinic with one of the judges.
Scoring will be similar to that of the district festival.