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April, 2017

Iroquois County high school choirs

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Vocal Music In Our Schools

Fatured: Christ Lutheran — page 2 Donovan — page 3 Iroquois West — page 4 Central — page 5 Milford — page 6 Watseka — page 7

A look at vocal music programs in Iroquois County April 2017


Christ Lutheran Page 3 2

Iroquois County high school choirs

April, 2017

The Christ Lutheran High School choir sings the Star Spangled Banner during class time.

Photo by Wendy Davis

Christ Lutheran choir making name for itself By WENDY DAVIS, Reporter wdavis@intranix.com The Christ Lutheran High School choir is making a name for itself. “Music is a universal thing and it touches many different people,” said Carol Liston, its director. They perform just about any type of genre, Liston said, music through the decades, show tunes, jazz, something with a catchy melody. “I want them to sing what they like and I want to stretch what they don’t know.” Something that’s important to her, she said, is making sure the students know the background behind works, whether it’s watching the film a song is known from or learning about the era when the song originated. The singers at Christ Lutheran let their voice be heard in a variety of different performances. She said the students have a spring concert

and a Christmas concert, each have a dinner with them. These dinner concerts are free but donations are accepted, and “There are some huge supporters of the school.” There are often sing alongs with the guests. She said these are very popular. “I was told, ‘if you let us sing, too, we’ll be there’.” Movie tunes are popular with audiences. “We do a lot of outreach.” They perform at school functions like graduation and they sing, live or by recording, the Star Spangled Banner at ball games. They also perform at other ball games as well, like the Bloomington Thunder hockey games. They go to nursing homes and churches, and they have been seen around town singing Christmas carols. “I keep them moving.” The caroling has become so popular that once the homes were hit all in one day, now it takes multiple days to go to each home. “A small commu-

nity loves a good caroling.” Part of the class time is also band. This year it’s a little more difficult to have a band, as there one flutist and three percussionists. She said they have worked on Phantom of the Opera works. “We’re a small school but we have a complete program for college bound students.” Choir class is the same time as P.E., so students have to choose between the arts or physical education. “Whether it’s six or 60, they have the same skills to work with,” Liston said. “It’s fun in a smaller class. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.” Liston had retired from teaching junior high. In 2013 she was approached to be the music director at CLHS. She volunteers her time at the school, and, she said, “I love it. “I really missed being around kids.”

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April, 2017

Donovan Iroquois County high school choirs

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Photo by Carla Waters The Donovan choir gets ready for a rehearsal.

Small numbers make for big performances in Donovan By CARLA WATERS, Managing Editor cwaters@intranix.com They may be small, but the Donovan choir is mighty. The choir is sixth- through twelfth grades, said music director Kelly Gifford. Gifford is able to work with the students in class, teaching them the music and vocal parts. Because there are so many different age groups, they sometimes don’t work on the music together, but they do get together to put finishing touches on the songs. The choir is working on songs

now for organizational competition, which is this weekend. Gifford doesn’t see the span of ages in the choir as a detriment. She said the older students look out for the younger students, and they all work well together. “They work well together,” she said. “The good thing about a small school is that everybody knows everybody. They work together to make sure that everyone succeeds. Not only are the students supportive of one another, but the community and the teachers and administrators are also. Gifford, who is in her first year

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in the district and also takes care of band instruction and activities, said she is working on growing choir numbers in the district. The district is home to some very talented students, she said. The choirs perform at two concerts a year — one in the fall/winter and another in the spring. The students also take part in solo and ensemble competitions, and will participate in organizational competition. Gifford has plans for growing the program and getting them more opportunities to express themselves musically.

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The organizational competition is one way that they can “show off their skills and represent the school.” This year the students are working on a variety of songs, with one that is upbeat, one that is a lyrical piece and one that is a spiritual. Gifford said she likes to give the students a variety of genres to expose them to different music. The songs this time, she said, have three parts in all three songs. “That’s new for us,” she said. “They work very, very hard,” Gifford said of the students.

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Iroquois West Iroquois County high school choirs

April, 2017

Photo contributed The Iroquois West High School concert choir performs for a variety of events each year.

Music education, important, fun at Iroquois West By CARLA WATERS, Managing Editor cwaters@intranix.com Vocal music is important in the Iroquois West School District. Montana Thomason conducts three choirs at the high school level, as well a junior high choir and elementary school students under his tutelage. The high school concert choir is comprised of 50 students. The students perform a variety of music and must be enrolled in vocal class. Thomason said he tries to give the choir as many genres as possible to students. “They perform everything from classical to modern to pop to Broadway,” he said. The jazz choir is an extra-curricular choir made up of 32 students. “They obviously focus on jazz,” he said. The students do not have to audition. Thomason said the jazz choir is for students who like jazz and don’t get enough of it. The chamber choir is made up of 13 students who have had to audition to be in the group. The groups perform at a variety of events, with not all groups performing at all events. Thomason said he likes to have the students get out in the community to perform. It gives them opportunities to perform and also gives the community opportunities to see

“I want them to feel special, because they are.” — Montana Thomason, Iroquois West choir director the students sing. The students not only perform school concerts, but some of the groups have outside the Iroquois West community as well. The chamber choir performed at Eastern Illinois University to sing with their choirs and went to the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis to perform recently. “It’s also an opportunity for the super-dedicated to get to do some things really high quality as far as music goes,” he said. Thomason said the students have taken ownership and have high integrity when it comes to their music. That goes even to what the students wear when they perform. The concert choir, for example, wears black. For a recent event, Thomason put them in formal wear with

boys in tuxedos and girls in formal dresses. “I want them to feel special, because they are,” he said. Thomason also teaches middle school, with 40 students in the choirs. There are 41 students in the elementary school choirs. The fall concert consists of high school and middle school choirs. It is themed each year, he said, with this year being Music of America. There are two separate spring concerts, with an upper elementary choir and middle school choir concert for one and the high school choir for the other. The concerts feature pop and more eclectic music, Thomason said. The high school spring concert is separate from the others, he said, so that the awards night can be con-

ducted at that time as well. The jazz ensemble performs at the Jingle Bell Swing, which also features the jazz band. There is a Jazz Night Out in May, which is sponsored by the Music Boosters. Along with those concerts, the choirs perform at solo and ensemble in March and organizational competition this weekend. The choirs also are able to have a spring trip, and perform a spring musical at the high school each year. As with other small schools, Thomason said, the students in choir work hard and are involved in many activities besides choir. “My students are hard working and well rounded,” he said. Thomason said he wants the students to understand that music is fun, which he said they do understand. He wants the community to realize how hard the kids work and how valued the music program is at Iroquois West. “It’s being valued as a choral class. The kids get music in school,” he said. “Music teaches things that you just can’t teach in other classes. My kids are always learning. They learn how to socialize, to be civil to one another, how to be on time for an event. I see such high dedication and quality that I really like where I am.”

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Central

April, 2017

Iroquois County high school choirs

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Photo by Doug Brenneman (Above) The Central Combined Choir is introduced at the recent spring concert by director Maggie Prendergast. (Below) The

Central has growing choir program with big opportunities By CARLA WATERS, Managing Editor cwaters@intranix.com Central High School is home to several choirs, giving the talented students there opportunities to express themselves vocally. The high school opportunities include a mixed choir for all students, a women’s choir that is auditioned and Madtrigals, which is also an auditioned group. Director Maggie Prendergast has a lot of ideas and works with the students every day to give them the best opportunities to express themselves vocally. She said there used to be a woman’s choir, and then a men’s choir and Madrigals, both of which were extra curricular groups. Girls seemed to be more interested in choir so they went with the mixed group and the women’s group. “My numbers seem to be grow-

ing,” she said. Next year she plans two mixed choirs, one of which will be auditioned and the other which will be non-auditioned. She also has a seventh grade choir and an eighth grade choir. With changes in the academic setting, going from the Block program to a traditional schedule, will present some changes. The choirs perform at the fall concert and a spring concert. The school has its own solo and ensemble contest that is performed in February. Prendergast said there are many students at the school who want to express themselves through music. She enjoys giving them those opportunities and allowing them to see what music can offer them. She likes having some auditioned groups along with the auditioned ones, giving students a chance to work on their skill levels.

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She said the student body as a whole has rallied with the choirs, with students who are not in the music program still attending concerts and supporting them. She also has found that the students realize they can be in more than one group at school. The students in the choirs are also in other clubs or athletics, giving them a well-rounded scholastic opportunity. The Madrigals is a jazz group, she said, so they perform jazz and pop style music. The other choirs perform more

choral music, including spirituals and classical music. The groups are getting ready for the Night on the Town, which is May 20-21. This concert has a variety show type atmosphere, she said. There will be students who perform emcee duties and also soloists and ensembles. The students also are able to work toward a trip to Disney, which is done every four years. “That’s slated for next year over spring break,” she said.

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Milford

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Iroquois County high school choirs

April, 2017

Photo by Wendy Davis The Milford High School Choir continues to learn, grow and enjoy music each year, says director Sandy Hamende.

Milford choir enjoys music By WENDY DAVIS, Reporter wdavis@intranix.com Sandy Hamende would like to see Milford High School’s choir grow. She has 19 kids to “help learn, grow and enjoy music” this year. The students are singing some contemporary songs for their upcoming spring concert: Stronger from Finding Neverland, a jazz version of You Are My Sunshine, and Na Na Na by the Pentatonix. “I wanted them to sing something they like,” she said, especially as they won’t get a chance to go to organizational contest this year due to scheduling conflicts. Having first place rankings at contest each year is the goal, she said.

“It’s like starting a new job. It’s energizing.” — Sandy Hamende, Milford choir director But she’s also looking toward the future. Something she’d like to see at MHS is a show choir and she thinks the students could be on board.

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“We’re in a transition period,” Hamende said, and it’s soon to be a literal transition as there is a new music room in the students’ future at the new high school. She said it’s been hard to keep the numbers going from elementary school to junior high, with the music room having been out in one of the north temporary buildings. “We look forward to being in the new building. The environment will be better, the acoustics. “There will be two practice rooms, more space.” She said there can be students practicing in these rooms as she is teaching the rest of the class. “It’s like starting a new job. It’s energizing.”

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Watseka

April, 2017

Iroquois County high school choirs

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Photo by Carla Waters The Watseka Community HIgh School choir gets ready for organizational competition this weekend by conducting a rehearsal earlier this week.

Watseka choirs dedicated, work hard By CARLA WATERS, Managing Editor cwaters@intranix.com Eighty voices strong, the Watseka Community High School choir performs at a number of events each year. Alyssa Norden said her students work hard throughout the year. She teaches second grade through high school students, with the older ones participating in choirs. There is a choir at the junior high level and one at the high school level. The high school, she said, has students from freshman to senior ages. Currently the choirs are non-auditioned, that way all students who want to participate can do so. At the high school, Norden said, “In the future, I hope to have an auditioned choir as well.” That choir would be separate from the Sensations, the school’s show choir, which is also an auditioned group. That group starts work in the summer on a show they perform at competitions in the winter months. The Sensations just completed its 39th season and has hosted its own show choir invitational that same number of years. That invitational is a fundraiser for the show choir to help offset production costs and provide experiences for the students. Norden wants the students to feel positive and happy when they participate in choir. The

“They are amazing. They want to be here. They want to get better. They really respond to me and they want to represent the school.” — Alyssa Norden, Watseka choir director skill level of the students runs from beginner to veteran, she said. The auditioned choir would give those more skilled students a chance to continue to hone their craft, while the non-auditioned choir would give the beginning students something to take part in and learn. Throughout the year, the high school choir performs at several events. There is a concert around the holidays, which is performed along with the band and jazz band. There’s also a spring concert. This year’s will be performed April 24 at the Watseka Theatre, again with the

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band and jazz band also performing. The high school choir is also performing at Saturday’s organizational event, which is at Bradley-Bourbonnais High School this year. Norden gets the choir ready for the events by regular class time rehearsals. “We do everything from choral music to foreign language,” she said. “I try to give them a wide variety.” The students “really enjoy” the different kinds of music they are exposed to, she said. There are students who also participate in solo and ensemble competitions, which are usually conducted in March. Norden said she is proud of the students and how hard they work. “They are amazing. They want to be here. They want to get better. They really respond to me and they want to represent the school.” That carries over into the younger grades, she said. The junior high has a sixth-grade choir and a seventh- and eighth-grade choir. She is hoping to add a fifth-grade choir in the future, which will give those younger students a chance to get involved with choir and prepare them for the choir programs as they get older. Norden also teaches the elementary school students, with a spring concert being planned for April 27. The elementary ages are very important, she said, as it gives them their first experiences with choirs.

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Iroquois County high school choirs

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