SKHS choir set for competition

It turns out that the high school choirs do, in fact, face just as much competition as McKinley High School.

But this isn’t an episode of “Glee.”

It’s reality for the South Kitsap High School choir, which will perform at the Northwest regional conference of the National Association for Music Education in February.

The 23 chamber-choir students will perform in a “concert hour” at a Bellevue Church during the four-day conference. About 600 people are expected to attend.

No big deal, right?

“I’m terrified,” said junior Sammi O’Neill.

Instructor Mike Allen has a bit more confidence in his students, though.

“This group of kids — and the chamber choirs from South — have kind of set a standard in our genre a bit,” he said. “The chamber choir here hasn’t got anything less than a superior rating at any festival we’ve been to since I’ve been here.

“I think they help to set the standard for what high schools do.”

Allen said the chamber choir auditioned last year for one of six spots for Washington schools. In total, 130 groups auditioned from Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. South Kitsap will share its hour with the choir from Central Washington University.

To be eligible, they had to send in awards and ratings received at festivals, as well as three professionally recorded songs. The process was a first for South Kitsap.

“Getting ready for this is a huge process because you can’t just walk in there and do any literature you’ve got,” Allen said. “You’ve got a 25-minute time slot and you’re trying to put in the literature that best represents your group. I spent a huge amount of time picking out literature that not only was quality, but would work out for this group of kids.”

Allen is no stranger to finding his way — when he arrived at South Kitsap, the chamber choir didn’t even exist.

“When I set up chamber choir, my goal was to have a group where music was their varsity sport,” he said. “It was their passion.”

Now, the group performs a range of music including Baroque, Renaissance and other “early music and almost all a cappella music.”

“It’s challenging for the kids not only to learn the music, but to be able to sing at that level,” Allen said.

In addition, performing mostly six-, seven- and eight-part music is more complex, he said. “Everyone has to be more independent because the parts are split up into smaller groups.”

Junior Claire Farmen agreed that the music presents a challenge.

“It’s really a challenge because we can’t see how the music is from the music,” she said. “We have to hear it and Mr. Allen has to give demonstrations. In one of our songs, we have to make a lot of speaking noises and do weird tuning things.

“It’s just crazy and it’s fun.”

Allen, who majored in vocal music and music education at Oregon State University, previously taught K-12 music in La Center. But like the music, this class is a bit more complex.

“They put in a huge amount of time,” he said. “It’s not one of those classes where you can come in and sing, and that’s good enough.”

O’Neill felt similarly.

“Individually, we spend lots of time at home,” she said. “An hour or two at least a week.”

Regardless of the end result of the Feb. 18 performance, Allen said he is proud of what his students are doing.

“When I was in high-school choir, this was far beyond what we would’ve ever even tried,” he said. “The quality of literature is not what we’re doing right now. This is collegiate-level literature.”

And because the students are so motivated, “It’s been a good place to do music here.”

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