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Lake Orion choir students perform with State Honors Choir



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February 01, 2012 - By Olivia Shumaker

Special to the Review

A pair of Lake Orion High School students got to show their vocal prowess recently, taking part in the state honors choir. Sophomore Olivia Demmers and junior Evan Thurwatcher performed with the state's best singers at the Michigan Music Conference in Grand Rapids.

"They just raise the bar (at the honors choir)," said Demmers, noting what it is like to sing with so many quality performers in one place.

The choir program at Lake Orion is led by teacher Deborah Fristad. In addition to being able to sing, she said choir students must have decent knowledge of the piano so that they can find their vocal pitches, using piano notes as a springboard.

Vocal techniques and memorization help carry them through the many pieces of music that they must learn for choir. Fristad said students need to be able to pick up music quickly and retain it over extended periods of time.

Demmers added, "You have to be able to sing the notes with feeling and with artistry."

Being in choir involves more than just focusing on one's individual performance, Demmers said. Sometimes, a person needs to help other students find their parts. In fact, a choir student may occasionally find themselves having to lead other choir students. In this case, patience is very important.

As it sounds, honors choir, particularly state honors choir, is a step up from the ordinary choir.

"If you picture a bunch of high school choirs, you pick out the best kids and you put them into one group," Demmers said.

The process for being selected to the state honors choir begins with a recommendation from Fristad. She picks out high-performing choir members and gives them the music for a regional choir audition. The students then have to learn the piece, which they perform with sight-reading music for the judge. From there, students find out if they made it into their region's honors choir. A regional choir concert doubles as the state honors choir and all-state honors choir audition.

"As you move higher up, there are less people to help you, so you really have to make sure you know how to do it," said Thurwatcher.

The state auditions take place during the collective rehearsal for the regional choir concert. Students need to know their pieces well, for the judge will ask them to perform specific measures, as well as singing a cappella, which means they are singing without a piano to help them find their pitches.

The songs that students perform in each choir vary, depending on the choir they are placed in during tryouts. No pieces from regional honors choir are carried over into the all-state concert, with the students required to learn a completely new set of songs.

The new pieces are decidedly different from what music students may learn in day-to-day choir. Some require complex harmonies, others have different note intervals and rhythms, while a few may be in a foreign language.

"It's very challenging because you have to be prepared musically," Demmers said.

The state concert is part of the Michigan Music Conference, which took place on January 19-21 and includes the honors band and honors orchestra in addition to the honors choir. The all-state concert is held at Western Michigan University as a part of the Michigan Youth Arts Festival, which does not take place until May.

"Everyone is really good and talented, so it makes it a lot more fun," Thurwatcher said. "We all care about the music."

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