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School News
OHS Chorale earns grand champion status

by Lance Farrell

May 30, 2012

Oxford High School choir students and their trophies.
The Oxford High School Chorale was awarded the Grand Champion Trophy at the Music-in-the-Parks festival held at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, OH on Friday, May 18.

Director of Choirs Chris Card took 120 of his 200 singers to the national competition. He assembled three choirs to participate in the national festival: a Women's Choir, a Chorale combined from the Treble, Men's, and Concert choirs, and Caritas, an advanced women's group.

All three OHS groups earned superior ratings from the Music-in-the-Parks judges. Out of twenty-four schools competing, the Grand Champion Trophy was awarded to the Wildcat combined Chorale for their festival-high rating, marking the third victory in as many national appearances for the OHS choirs.

But of all honors bestowed on the OHS choirs at Cedar point, the greatest was the Esprit de Corps trophy, an award given to the school who demonstrates the "right attitude . . . on and off the stage," Card said. According to the festival website, this top prize is presented to "students . . .who demonstrated proper social behavior as well as musical behavior/encouragement. They possess the qualities of highly successful people who are sensitive to the feelings of others."

OHS students not only performed well, Card said, but the Esprit de Corps is evidence they have a "giving heart" as well as musical talent. Building character, not just knowledge, is a primary aim of the International Baccalaureate curriculum (IB), and so the choir is "a perfect example of IB in action," Card said.

With their record of excellence, OHS choirs are now receiving international invitations, and thus fulfill other aspects of the vaunted IB curriculum. Between performance dates scheduled in Austria, Ireland, and China, and the many non-English languages songs they sing, Card's choirs are living out the IB goals. The choir is one of "those pieces that prove the (IB) model is working," Card said.

But more important than trophies, Card said, you "can see tangible results in (student's) faces." Even before they received their scores, they knew they had done better and their confidence was visible, the choir director said. More important to student development than taking home the top trophy, Card said, was that each group met personal goals.

For example, each performance group set a goal of receiving a "superior" rating. The choir members had asked themselves "what's it going to take" to meet the superior rank; learning from previous competitions that diction was a facet of their performance that needed polishing, the choirs set out to improve on this element.

To work on their diction, the choirs would do various exercises such as speaking the words to their songs, and "read (ing) poems aloud," singers Samantha Casey and Lauren Chapman said. Though it was hard to improve, the group felt ready to show the judges their improvement. Without arrogance, the choirs thought "watch us: we're going to make this happen," the singers said.

One of the highlights for Casey and Chapman was to execute a difficult song titled "Dry Bones," a choral rendition of the biblical tale of Ezekial and his vision of the valley of dry bones.

Once a challenging tune to execute, after working on diction and the dramatic delivery required in the a cappella song, it "ended up being one of my favorites," Ms. Chapman said.

As part of a group of dedicated and focused musicians who are "all here for the same thing," Casey and Chapman said they "never have to question" a fellow vocalist's preparation. We "go into (contests and performances) with trust and faith in each other," the singers claimed.

This trust came in handy when the Caritas group had to assemble in a gymnasium with bad acoustics and a loud AC system at the Cedar Point competition. Without the ability to hear one another very well, harmonization was achieved through sheer trust.

OHS was the only AA school at the competition, so there were times when the OHS groups competed against each other. Casey and Chapman both agreed that it was "hard to compete against" choirmates, but since all OHS singers won awards, the experience wasn't too trying.

Chapman, a school-of-choice junior alto from Metamora, said she finds choir class "fun and challenging." Before coming to OHS three years ago, she had never had a choir experience. Now, she "looks forward" to attending.

Chapman expects to continue working with choirs after she leaves OHS. She's looking into the music programs at Hope, Alma, and Valparaiso colleges where she wants to pursue a premed course of study. A piano player since age six, a percussionist in middle school band, and a self-taught flautist, she said that singing provides "her relief from stress." It's clear that music will be a part of her life for a long time to come.

Casey speaks of music in similar tones. A sophomore soprano from Oxford, Casey began piano lessons last year, and said she "dabbles" in other instruments. "Singing is my passion," she said, and to do so with gals she considers as close as family is "all the better." She plans on taking private voice lessons and is looking at possibly attending Western Michigan University.

Competing against the nation's top singers took dedicated effort, but wasn't an insurmountable obstacle for the young singers. Spending an afternoon around the amusement park proved to be challenge for the young vocalists, however. "Good thing (I rode the rides) after the performance," Casey joked. "I'm pretty sure I lost my voice for a couple days," Chapman said of her time at the roller coaster capital.

The singers recommend the choir experience to others. "If you ever find that you're not a part of something, do choir—we'll accept you, Casey said. "If you love music, jump in—we'll take you!"

Chapman agreed: "I'm excited to walk in and to see and sing with the gals. Music is something that can break down barriers and create happiness. It speaks to the soul, and is not concerned with outward appearances."

"Mr. Card is a great teacher, and he teaches more than just music, he teaches character," she said. And, there's plenty of "joking around, too," Chapman added. "We mix business and pleasure."

Between the Grand Champion Trophy, superior rankings for all choirs, and the Esprit de Corps award, there is plenty of evidence that more than just music is being made in the OHS choirs.