Willard HS choir earns superior rating at state

Cary Ashby • May 2, 2019 at 7:00 PM

WILLARD — The Willard High School choir received rock-star treatment returning from state competition this weekend.

Police provided an escort as the choir members rode on a school bus into Willard — complete with flashing lights. 

“They were very surprised. They thought the police were pulling someone over,” said Audrey Schussler, choir director for the last three years.

The Willard music boosters coordinated the police escort.

“We did not know about it,” said junior Kennedy Daub, the daughter of Tony and Ashley.

The 70-member choir earned a superior rating during state competition Saturday at Van Buren High School, the hosting site for the past three years.

“It’s pretty cool, especially because (of) how many kids we have, so it means a lot of every one of them,” junior Chloe Weaver said.

This is the choir’s second superior rating in three years at state. Schussler said this also marks “the fourth year in a row overall” that choir has made it to state.

“We also moved up a class. So we were Class C and we got a ‘one’ (aka superior) and then we moved up a class, so now we’re Class B,” said Weaver, the daughter of Keith and Cathy.

The divisions are based on the difficulty of the musical selections. Choir members said this year’s pieces were a lot more challenging than in past years, with more parts and different rhythms.

To qualify for state, the Willard choir competed at the district level with 40 to 50 other schools. Of those, about half of the choirs usually advance to state competition.

“If you get a ‘one’ there, then you go to state,” said junior Melayna Mahl, the daughter of Mike and Tammy.

The choir performed three songs for state — an upbeat, gospel tune, a lullaby and a classic choir arrangement.

“I think we all liked ‘Lunar Lullaby’ better,” Weaver said. “It was just really pretty.”

Preparation for one of the state competition pieces started in the fall. The group performed it during its fall concert. The choir began rehearsing the other two songs in the spring.

“We have a lot of people come in and help us, like directors from college. Then we practiced every day,” Mahl said.

Some of the wisdom the choir received from other directors included singing with “taller vowels,” which means the vocalists needed to open their mouths more. Mahl, a soprano, said doing that made a difference with her voice and made her sound more mature.

In addition to the prepared music at state, the choir also was graded on sight reading. 

“Sight reading can be very nerve-wracking, but we do a really good job with it actually. Our main four groups — tenors, altos and basses and sopranos — we usually do a really good job of listening to each other and working together,” Daub said.

The junior also said one of the tricks to doing sight reading well is to keep singing even if there is a mistake.

“We have been working hard at sight reading,” added Schussler, the director. “We have been working on that all year.”

The choir uses solfege, or syllables designated for each note in a scale. The most notable example is in the song “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music.” Schussler said her choir also uses a system known as audiation,  “hearing a sound in your head and being able to produce it.”

The director is proud of her students’ achievement at state.

“It’s easy to have such a great choir when you’re working with a great group of students. These young men and women are just fantastic,” she said.

The choir has a performance at 3 p.m. May 11 in the Willard High School auditeria.

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