District Chorus concert moved up

More than 160 students from 33 school districts participated in the District 9 Chorus Festival at Dallas High School on Thursday night. TIMES-SHAMROCK PHOTO/WARREN RUDA

BY PAT FARNELLI

For the most dedicated high school performers, the bleak midwinter is the season for mastering most challenging pieces and vying for a spot in district, regional, and state festivals.

January and February are the months when district chorus, band and orchestra festivals are held, and auditions for regional competitions take place on the first day.

This year, Dallas High School hosted district chorus, and students from Northeast PA gathered Wednesday to audition for a spot on the stage at regional chorus and rehearse for the district festival concert, scheduled for Friday night.

Students who have been chosen to participate spend their days and evenings in rehearsal with top-notch choral directors, and sleep and shower at the Holiday Inn in Wilkes-Barre.

However, blizzard predictions for Friday evening were a little too daunting.

As students rehearsed with conductor Mark Mecham on Thursday, the PMEA website and host directors Cassie Palfrey and Holley Major sent out weather alerts, and parents were notified that the concert was being moved up to Thursday night.

The festival hosts looked at the event schedule and forecasts and determined that for the safety of student participants and the parents and chorus directors driving them home, it would be prudent to cancel the last night and move the concert to Thursday.

The director of the chorus festival said school districts will be refunded for 50 hotel rooms that were booked for Thursday night.

In spite of the loss of 24 hours of valuable training and rehearsal, the show went on before an eager audience that nearly filled the 1,700 seat concert hall.

Dallas Superintendent Frank Galicki, and high school principal Jeffrey D Shaffer welcomed the audience, and PMEA District 9 President Nino Bennici introduced the chorus and the District 9 Chorus coordinator, Sue Kelly.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

After a hand bell piece, “The Bells of Rhymney,” the singers entered the auditorium from many directions with the processional, “Bonse Aba,” arranged by George Fisher.

Next was the traditional sacred anthem, “Blessed be God,” by George Frederick Handel.

“Holy Radiant Light” by Alexander Gretchaninoff was this year’s original audition piece, which students rehearsed since last spring in preparation for the festival.

“Ka Waiata Ki a Maria,” an unusual take on the standard “Ave Maria,” had lyrics in the Maori language of New Zealand.

“Poor Man Lazarus,” an African-American spiritual, was the men’s piece, featuring the bass 2 vocalists.

“Danny Boy,” the ladies’ arrangement, had a bit of a false start. The director halted the girls after the first familiar phrase, and then the lilting, bittersweet melody in lovely harmony filled the hall.

“The Cloths of Heaven,” a lovely rendition of a poem by William Butler Yeats by composer Z. Randall Stroope, used the short poem, “He wishes for the cloths of heaven, as lyrics:

“Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths/ Enwrought with golden and silver light,/Of night and light and the half-light,/I would spread the cloths under your feet;/But I, being poor, have only my dreams;/I have spread your dreams under your feet:/Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

“My God Is a Rock,” a challenging gospel/ spiritual number arranged by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw, had a high energy solo part performed by Kirk Reichart of Wyoming Valley West.

Reichart was up for the challenge, but in the heat of performance synched his rhythms to the rapid beat of his own heart, and the choral sections fell into disparate rhythms. Not good enough, explained the director, who begged the audience’s pardon for asking the choir to sing the entire piece again, the way it was meant to sound, the way it sounded that day in rehearsal.

The second time was the charm.

Reichart’s voice was soulful, bright, and syncopated, and the choir wove their complex responses with his “preaching.” Hanna Bjornstad of Mid Valley Secondary Center was another soloist on this selection.

The final piece, a setting of Robert Frost’s “Choose Something like a Star” from the Frostiana collection by Randall Thompson, was introduced as a powerful memory piece for the conductor, who recalled attending the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as a child, on a bracingly cold November day. The snow was falling so fast that Robert Frost, poet laureate, could not read the poetic tribute he had composed for the occasion. Frost recited his poem, “A Gift Outright,” in its place, with its powerful themes of America and the generation of the future. voice cracked a bit as he told the audience he has seen America’s future over the past couple of days, and gesturing to the choir, noted that it was a bright one indeed.

Students from Wyoming County:

Lackawanna Trail:  Alyssa Walker, Soprano 1;  Meredith Horwatt and Shannon O’Malley, Alto 1; Rachel Clark and Gabrielle Sunseri, Alto 2.

Tunkhannock Area: Stephanie Kridlo and Theresa Longstreet, Soprano 2; Malcolm Layaou, Tenor 2; Alex Phillips and John Vito Powell, Bass 2.

Students from Susquehanna County:

Blue Ridge: Destiny Galu-Edgar, Soprano 1; Madison Button, Soprano 2; Sierra Marriott, Alto 1; Faith Galu-Edgar and Julia Stanley, Alto 2; Dustyn and Dylan Carpenter, Tenor 1; Zachary Benedict, Tenor 2; Michael Gathany, Kalieb Scheideler and Allen Weed, Bass 2.

Elk Lake: Sarita Farnelli, Alto 2; Christian Sprout, Tenor 1.

Forest City Regional: Doria Miller, Soprano 2; Sonny Albright, Bass 1;

Montrose Area: Alyssa Cutri, Soprano 1; Mollie Host, Soprano 2; Gracie Lutz, Alto 1; Amanda Rucker, Alto 2; Tyler Zaleski, Tenor 2; Jacob Kerbaugh, Bass 1.

Mountain View: Peter Maloney, Tenor 2; Andrew Adams and Benjamin Maitland, Bass 2

Susquehanna Community: Derek Case, Tenor 1; Coleman Hansen, Tenor 2; Clayton Hansen, Bass 1.