Sussex County has upped the ante for music education, as the Sussex County Junior Honor Choir returned to the stage for 2016.
This year, about 80 students represented Selbyville, Millsboro, Georgetown, Seaford, Beacon, Mariner and Woodbridge middle schools, as well as Sussex Academy and Southern Delaware School of the Arts.
Singers are hand-selected based on behavior, enthusiasm and willingness to learn new music.
“It makes me proud,” said Selbyville Middle School teacher Eric Tsavdar. “[It takes] self-discipline and drive to be part of the program. It gives them the opportunity to sing with a more advanced group.”
They performed April 7 at Woodbridge Middle School, under guest conductor LeeAnn Masters of Harford County, Md., (a teacher and professional musician for more than 40 years) and accompanist Jerry Biri.
Working with a guest conductor ups the ante for these seventh- and eighth-graders, said SDSA teacher Denise Adkins.
“Just being able to sight-read, and also being able to blend and not stand out” are several skills the students develop.
“It takes responsibility,” since the five rehearsals move at a faster pace, said SDSA eighth-grader Grace Kerr.
They’re performing music that is generally more challenging than in their home schools, said Amber Schaeffer, SDSA eighth-grader. “You definitely have to work on it by yourself at home.”
Many of the singers participated last year, so they had their heads in the game and knew what to expect, said Georgetown Middle School teacher Laura Carey.
Their sound quality has really improved, Carey said. “They’re not as timid. They know what the end product is.”
“It really increases our program at our own schools. They’re used to a more professional rehearsal,” and they’ll bring that attitude back to their home choirs, said Beacon Middle School teacher Juleeann Schlitter. Former All-State singers bring that same professionalism down to the county level.
County chorus is considered an excellent launching pad for promising young singers. It’s a growing experience for those who aren’t ready for the state level. Plus, middle-schoolers don’t have an audition process, which can be stressful enough to discourage participation.
During rehearsal, Bob Lewis’s sixth-graders watched from the back of the auditorium.
“It’s a great resource,” the Woodbridge Middle School teacher said. “I’ve got my own chorus back here … looking forward to what is possible.”
“It reminds them that ‘Kids your age are capable of this,’” Tsavdar said. “We have athletes up there … a wide demographic/cross-section of different populations.”
Of the seven songs, many singers favored “Come In from the Firefly Darkness” by Amy Feldman Bernon. Gospel carried the grand finale, “How Can I Keep from Singing” by Greg Gilpin.
The choir program restarted last spring after a more than 20-year gap, as local teachers lamented the lack of a choral equivalent to county band.
“I think our county is growing in the arts department, and this is showing that,” Carey said.
“We have really talented and dedicated musicians in this county,” Schlitter said, and they can definitely hold their own at the state level.
All the teachers thanked their local schools and communities for their support.
The Sussex County Music Educators Association organizes the honors program. They hope to restart the high school program next year.