Five Westfield High students will perform next week with the Virginia All-State Chorus. They are Ashley Collins, Samantha Wassyng, Laura Fraase, Barry Armbruster and Stephen Hatch.
ALL OF THEM are in the school's top choral group, Chamber Singers, for which they had to audition. In addition, Wassyng, Armbruster and Hatch are in Mixed Chorus, and Collins and Fraase are in Women's Chorus.
And Westfield Choral Director Jessica Lardin is delighted with their success. "I'm always proud of my students," she said. "Each year, we have more and more who make All-State Chorus. It's a really good experience for them because they get to be with kids who are as strong as they are, in a more exclusive choral experience.
The All-State Choral Concert is Thursday-Saturday, April 27-29, at Western Branch High School in Chesapeake. The choir will sing six songs with collegiate-level, choral directors, Sandra Snow and Jonathan Reed, from Michigan State University.
"You had to make All-District Chorus first, and then juniors and seniors could try out for All-State," said Wassyng. "Two students for each voice part are selected from District 11, composed of Westfield, Centreville, Chantilly, Woodson, Robinson and West Springfield [high schools]."
There are 16 districts altogether. Auditions for the All-State Chorus were held in February at West Springfield High. Students sang the parts for their voices on Mendelsohn's "He Watching Over Israel."
"And we had to do an eight-bar, sight-reading," said Wassyng. "They give you 20 seconds to read it and then you have to sing it," added Fraase, a senior who sings alto. I was hopeful I'd make it last year, because I'd placed as a junior." So this is her second year to be in All-State Chorus.
"You find out the same day [you audition]," said Fraase. They choose four girls and two boys per voice part." More girls than boys are chosen, she said, because there are actually two, All-State Choirs, and one is just for girls.
"It was exciting [being selected]," she said. "It wraps up all the musical goals I had for myself in high school. And it's something I worked hard for. I enjoyed it a lot last year so, hopefully, it'll be another good performance."
FRAASE PLANS to major in music education and was accepted at two schools. She's worked with Lardin since her freshman year and has learned a great deal from her. Said Fraase: "She's increased my musicianship and helped my sight-reading, and she's been very supportive. Sometimes, she lets me help teach sight-reading in class so I can get more music-educator experience."
Wassyng, 16, is a junior and a soprano and was surprised to make All-State. "I really wasn't expecting to get in," she said. "I'd heard it was really hard, and so few were accepted, that the odds weren't good. And I was a junior." But sure enough, they called her name. Said Wassyng: "I was speechless; I thought they'd called the wrong person."
The toughest part of the audition, she said, is "getting the rhythm right in the sight-reading, because it's challenging to learn it in [so short a time]." The best part, said Wassyng, was the way "everyone waited around together for the announcement and you heard your fellow choir students' support. I'm very excited [about the upcoming performance] because it's going to be a new experience I've never had, and I really like singing. I've been in chorus since fifth grade."
Senior Barry Armbruster, a bass, started singing with his church choir in kindergarten, and he likes musical theater and opera, the best. In the fall, he was one of 150 students statewide to be selected for the State Seniors Honors Choir. And he was an alternate for last year's All-State Choir.
This time, the audition turned out better. "We'd just sung that piece in District Choir, so I was already familiar with it," said Armbruster. "I'd hoped to get selected, so it was a pleasant surprise; I was elated."
He applied to Columbia, Northwestern, Penn State and William & Mary and plans to major in political science and/or foreign affairs. He'll still continue studying singing and acting but, as for a career, he hopes to either go into law, politics or academia.
Ashley Collins is a junior, 17, and a soprano II who started choir in the eighth grade. She's also versatile in her musical tastes. "I like singing alternative music, but I like to expand the different ways to say things, so I also like folk music," she said. Collins made All-State Choir while attending Rachel Carson Middle School, but this is her first time as a high-schooler.
"Everybody goes in nervous and not expecting to win, so I tried my hardest, did what I expected to do and, luckily, they called my name," she said. The toughest part, said Collins, was "staring at the bright, red cloth that the judges stood behind [while we auditioned], trying to focus on your notes while seeing that red — it took your attention."
But, she said, "Since we did the same piece for Districts, I was comfortable with it, already knew it and could feel the emotion in it. There's always that fleeting hope that you'll get in, but then you think, 'Maybe I did something wrong.' Then you realize you should have more confidence in yourself and that you really can sing."
When Collins learned she made it, she said, "I was shocked, just like everyone else. It was exhilarating. Everyone who tries out has a passion for singing so, when you get to do it at a higher level, it makes you very serene and happy."
AS PART of the All-State Chorus, Collins is looking forward to learning new music. "You feel different emotions with each piece," she explained. "And when you're in a group like All-State — where everyone is so dedicated to the music — they really feel the emotion in the song and put out their best effort, and it's very rewarding."
Junior Stephen Hatch, 16, is a tenor whose second-grade teacher encouraged him to sing. He later performed the title role in "Oliver" for the Reston Community Players and was a prince in "The King and I." He sang in choir in elementary school and, at Rocky Run Middle School, he sang in the school musicals, "Crazy Camp" and "Music Man Jr."
"Laura Fraase got me into choir this year," he said. "I didn't think I was going to make All-State because we had so many high-powered senior singers. I thought maybe next year. I sang and thought I did reasonably well. Then I heard some people singing in the hall and I thought, 'Wow, they're awesome.'"
Actually, said Hatch, the audition itself is "really intimidating because you can't see the judges. And afterward, they just say, 'OK, you can go now.' It's really nerve-wracking. But that way, they judge just on your sound, not on your looks."
While clapping for everyone else, he heard his name called. "It really was amazing," he said. "It was an honor to be up in that same group with Barry and everyone else. All-State Chorus will be great — I'm gonna love it."