Looking back to my freshman year, I highly doubted even being selected into our District choir following my audition. To my surprise, I was chosen to
Looking back to my freshman year, I highly doubted even being selected into our District choir following my audition. To my surprise, I was chosen to participate in the mixed choir, marking it my first experience of performing with other students from many different schools among different areas. My freshman year was also the first year I had even participated in an organized choir at all, and so all of that were great new experiences. I simply began to grow as a singer following my freshman year, setting many different goals for myself. Being selected for the All-National Mixed Choir, however, was not one of the things I expected to achieve.
The event took place November 26-29 of this year, primarily at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida. Officially titled the “All-National Honor Ensembles”, a Mixed Choir, a Concert Band, an Orchestra, and a Jazz Band all meet to rehearse multiple songs and eventually perform, all consisting of many high school students from across the country. The Mixed choir’s director was Dr. Z. Randall Stroope, a veteran conductor and composer with over 160 musical compositions. He has conducted choirs for several different events across the world (from D.C. to Rome to Hong Kong) and is the current Director of Choral and Vocal studies at Oklahoma State University. This was one of the many reasons I was incredibly excited for this event.
The audition process involved learning your voice part (Tenor, Bass, Alto, Soprano) to a choral piece (called “Sing We At Pleasure”) and sending a video in of yourself singing it aCapella. When I got the email from NAfME (National Association for Music Education) back in July confirming I was selected for the mixed choir, I wasn’t able to fully process it was actually happening. I felt the same way for the next few months, until the event came around. Most students in the choir flew to Florida, but because my family was coming along and it was slightly cheaper, we drove all the way down and back (besides stopping at hotels overnight). We left the day after Thanksgiving, stopped in South Carolina that night, and arrived in Orlando the next day. I stopped at the resort my family would be staying at, and then was “transferred” over to the Coronado Springs Resort the next day (Nov. 26), where the event began.
I had been to Disney World a few times before then, and so I was excited to be back on the property. The resort, especially its massive and elaborate convention center where the event was to be held, definitely impressed me and set the tone for how the rest of the event was going to be. It was exciting being at such a great venue, but then reality set it. Just registration and waiting around for rehearsals to begin made me aware of everyone around me; I did not know anyone there, and I was nervous as to how prepared I was in comparison. Despite all of my thoughts, rehearsal began at 4 that day, and the first rehearsal gave me a strong idea of how everything would be. It was incredible, simply put, being around so many hard-working students who clearly wanted to be there – we all seemed to be on the same page. I was insanely excited to rehearse under Dr. Stroope, and I was not at all let down. I had been a part of choirs with guest directors before, with some being great and others making the entire experience underwhelming. His work methods and professionalism were how you would hope it would be for his years of experience, making rehearsals that were productive and not boring. That side of him was great, but he was also surprisingly down-to-Earth. He was not at all pretentious or distant, but was relatable and open to talking directly to students, making for an enjoyable and more relaxed experience. Our accompanist was also fantastic, and I can’t go without mentioning him. His name was Andrew Steffen, also a conductor and composer, who is the current Choir Director of Richland High School in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas. He did an incredible job accompanying our songs that were not easy, all the while being just as kind and down-to-Earth.
Our director was great, but I cannot praise the entire event itself enough as well. Going back to the venue, the resort itself was fantastic. It was slightly on the older side, but was still welcoming and gorgeous as a whole. As I mentioned, rehearsals were a lot of fun and did not feel as long as they were. In all honesty though, I did not prepare my music as much as I could have. This made me focus up and work as hard as possible to where I could catch up. One thing I have to thank this experience for, though, is making me aware that I wasn’t the leader anymore. I’m used to leading and helping other students out at school when I need to, and I try to work through everything. I realized at All-National that almost everyone had that same mindset, and that I was not quite as extroverted as I assumed I was. Everyone was very confident and “on top of their game”, which I’m very thankful for. It made me aware I have some room to grow if I want to be on the same level. Despite any of my concerns there, everyone there were welcoming and genuine people; it was not difficult to work with them. With in the first few hours of being there I met two students from Idaho, who I stayed in contact with the rest of the trip.
The ultimate focus was the end product with the concert. But everything leading up to it was also great. The resort, our rooms, and returning to Magic Kingdom and Epcot was also fantastic once again – that has always been something special for me. What was also amazing was something they did not have to do, that simply being how much they congratulated and celebrated us being there. The surprise dinner they had for us at Epcot was incredible, in which the General Program Chairman of NAfME (Scott Sheehan) spoke for us, and where long-running Epcot aCapella group The Voices of Liberty performed for us – probably the best choral performance I have ever seen live. They continued to congratulate us in similar ways throughout the trip, and although I did not necessarily feel deserving, I have to thank them for how welcoming they made the experience.
Lastly, the night of the concert came. I was nervous, wanting to be as memorized as possible. The hour so before the performance made me slightly more relaxed though, just being able to hang out with everyone and being able to get a picture with Dr. Stroope (I was a bit of a fanboy). Then it came, all 283 of us gathered on stage for the concert to begin. Up until then, I still didn’t fully realize simply the fact that I was there. Once we began performing our songs (all of which were fantastic), the gravity of the event hit me: I was there with other students from all across the country, under great direction and with a fantastic accompanist, performing for an audience that was very ready to hear us. It went better than I expected (my semi-last-minute preparation paid off), and we were all able to perform as passionately and strongly as we hoped. It was also great performing two of Dr. Stroope’s own compositions, Consecrate the Place and Day and I Am Not Yours (both gorgeous pieces that were probably my favorite, I recommend giving them a listen). In the end, the performance blew me away; it was the perfect end product that wrapped everything up well.
From the students there, to our director, to the venue itself, and to everything they provided for us, All-National Choir was unreal. The last thing I can do is recommend an experience like this to any musician out there. Even if it’s just a local or district group, working with a guest director and with people you don’t know who share the same passion can be eye-opening. At least for me, performing in groups like that remind me why I love performing – not only to enjoy that passion for singing but to positively affect the audience. Music can be a very powerful and emotional medium to listen to or view, and an event like All-Nationals reminds me of that, and that more people participating in those events can be a very positive thing for themselves and for anyone watching.