Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 7:32 PM on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Students named to national choir

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

It isn't unusual for Homer High School's talented students to perform with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School district honor choir. Or the state honor choir. Or an honor choir of students from the Pacific Northwest.

This year, however, HHS choir director Mark Robinson aimed for something newer, bigger.

"National honor choir is a relatively recent development. This is the first time I've ever submitted kids for national," said Robinson. "I told the kids I didn't have any expectations that any of them would make it for sure. I told them I'd be thrilled if one got into it."

Ten students auditioned.

"Lo and behold, eight of them made it," said Robinson.

In June, Robinson and the students will travel to Washington, D.C., where the students will rehearse with world-class conductors, perform at Kennedy Center and, as time allows, get in some sightseeing. The students are:

• Marina Brooks, senior;

• Jody Gaines, senior;

• John Hannan, senior;

• Hope Hudson, sophomore;

• Jacob Mayforth, sophomore;

• Kate Spence, senior;

• Mariah Stuart, senior;

• Kirsten Swanson, junior.

Sponsored by MENC: the National Association for Music Education, formerly the Music Educators National Conference, the 2011 All-National Honor Ensemble concerts will be held June 23-26, part of NEMC's Music Education Week. The All-National Honor Choir includes 150 musicians performing under the direction of Sandra Snow, associate professor of music education and choral conducting at Michigan State University's College of Music. It culminates with the concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Auditions were recorded and submitted online, with each student doing a series of four exercises that included scales and chromatic exercises that Robinson described as "fairly challenging." All auditioning was a cappella, without benefit of musical accompaniment.

"And then they had to sing (the first stanza and chorus of) 'America the Beautiful,' which seems at first glance easy, but is a very difficult song to sing in tune without any piano help," said Robinson. "In that short little song, you can really hear a lot about a person's tone quality, ability to shift from one register to another, smoothly, confidently, and their ability to stay in pitch because it changes key. It turns out to be a very good test."

Between now and the June departure, the students are responsible for memorizing the music, with the help of Robinson. Although the music has yet to arrive, "you can assume it's very high quality and fairly challenging," he said. "Usually in a thing like this, in similar festivals, it's usually five to six pieces."

They also will be fund raising.

"They're ultimately responsible for their own expenses, but as a group they'll be doing some car washes, lots of sweeping, that sort of thing," said Robinson.

Also representing the Kenai Peninsula School District will be a group of musicians from Kenai Central High School.

"There have been strong choral traditions at both schools for many years," said Robinson. "The kids work hard to develop the talents they have. I don't know that there's anything in the water, but kids from a relatively young age take their singing seriously and work at it and develop it."

Homer's young musicians have opportunities to showcase their talent at major choral works, school musicals and at the district, state and northwest events.

"This is a tradition of striving for excellence, doing excellent music and they are great kids," said Robinson. "Give them the opportunity and they go after it, which makes my job both easy and rewarding. And somewhat exhausting."

In August, Kenai Peninsula audiences will have an opportunity to hear high school musicians perform with members of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra and adult choir in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.