A total of 606 high school students from West Virginia and surrounding states joined their voices together for the inaugural West Virginia University Honor Choir Festival February 20.
Six of those students – Amber Sisler, Layla Shinaberry, Xenobia Varner, Chyenna Campbell, Allison Turner and Andrew Sipe – were from Pocahontas County High School.
Band and choir director Bob Mann selected the students to participate in order to gain experience in the choral field and to perform in a large-scale choir.
“It was a really big deal,” Mann said. “So many people were there. They did manage to get six hundred and six singers on stage to perform.”
Unlike honor band, the choir students only had one day to prepare for the performance.
“The honor bands were a three-day, two night event,” Mann said. “The honor choir took place in one day. They didn’t have an audition process. It was very much by band director/choir director in this case.”
An added obstacle was that PCHS choir was first semester and Mann did not receive the music until near Christmastime, when the semester was ending. The students spent personal time looking over the music in order to be ready for the event.
“I had the music out a month in advance so the students could review it, but I didn’t have a lot of contact with them,” Mann said. “So for many of them it really was like sight reading.”
Going from a 12 member choir to a 606 ensemble, the students had a lot of learning to do. While they were prepared to sing and to match pitch, they weren’t prepared for the sheer power behind that many voices joined together in harmony.
“When the sopranos sang, I got lost in what I was singing,” Sipe said.
“It was ear splitting, depending on what section you were in,” Sisler agreed. “I was right in the middle of the soprano section and it was ear splitting.”
The ensemble performed two songs which were composed by visiting director Eric Whitacre, Grammy Award winning composer and conductor.
“It was a big feather in the cap of WVU to get him there,” Mann said. “The cool thing is, he’s very humble. He’s entertaining. He can really grab the attention of the room. [Kristy] Tritapoe was in attendance at this event also, and one of the first things she said was, ‘how in the world can he get six hundred people to silently listen to him?’”
It may seem impossible to get a room of 600 teenagers to pay attention, but Mann said he thinks the students were an exception because they were musicians.
“Music students are some of the best people you could ask for,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s choir or band, they’re disciplined and they’re just good people. They have the respect to make something like this happen.”
Mann plans to continue the school’s participation in the honor choir event.