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Detroit Lakes vocal students are named to state and national honor choirs

This week, while most Detroit Lakes students are living through a last blast of winter, two of them are on their way to sunny Miami, Fla., where they will be rehearsing for their upcoming participation in a national honor choir concert.

Detroit Lakes Middle School sixth grader Emma Wood has been selected to participate in the National Treble Youth Honor Choir, which will perform during the afternoon on Saturday, March 10, as part of the American Choral Directors Association National Convention in Miami.

Also in Miami for the week will be Detroit Lakes High School senior Mark Champa, who has been selected to participate in the 2007 National Multicultural Honor Choir. He will also perform next Saturday as part of the ACDA convention.

Though they will not be performing together, the two DL music students will have a similar week of preparation, which will involve intensive rehearsals with renowned conductors including Rollo Dilworth (who will conduct the Multicultural Choir), and Jean Ashworth Bartle (who will conduct the Treble Youth Choir).

"Getting into either one of these choirs is monumentally difficult," said Kathy Larson, vocal music instructor for Detroit Lakes High School. "This really establishes both Emma and Mark as outstanding musicians."

The process of being selected for the choirs began early in October, when the two students were asked to submit an audition CD consisting of a solo piece, a capella scales and a rendition of "America, the Beautiful."

Then, it was simply a matter of waiting, Larson noted. "This is a national audition process... it takes a couple of months."

Both students were notified in late November that they had made the cut. Emma was one of only nine from Minnesota who were selected for the Treble Youth Choir, while only three other Minnesotans besides Mark were chosen for the Multicultural Choir.

But their selection was just the beginning. As their departure date drew nearer last week, Champa said, "I'm still working (on the songs)."

"The music is probably some of the most challenging to learn that I've had," he added. "And you're expected to have it all memorized -- that's really difficult."

Still, Champa predicts that "everything will come together" by concert night.

Wood, too, is confident. "I'm pretty sure I'm ready," she said -- despite the fact that about half of the 11 songs she had to learn are sung in a foreign language.

"Out of my eight songs )for the Multicultural Choir), six of them are foreign language," Champa added.

So are they going to be able to get in a little sightseeing while they're there? Not really, Champa said.

"We pretty much practice every day until the concert," he said.

Wood was actually planning to leave this past Friday, so she and her mother, grandmother and sister will be able to take in Disney World before practice begins on Tuesday.

Once rehearsals begin, it's a pretty intensive process, working from early in the morning to mid-afternoon each day.

In addition to working really hard to prepare for the concert, Larson said, participation in the ACDA national honor choirs is a considerable financial commitment from the students' families, as they must fund all transportation, lodging and meal costs themselves, as well as paying a fee for participation in the choir itself.

But while Larson is tremendously proud of her two

national honor choir participants, she also takes pride in the

fact that she sent six DL students to the ACDA of Minnesota Grade 9-10 Honor Choir. They included Paige Johnson, Dani Labine, Angela Peterson, Nick Piche, Alex Renner and Kelsey Wenner.

"It's really neat, all of these really good singers from around the state getting together (to perform)," Labine said. "You don't get an experience like that very often.

It was Labine's first invitation to participate in an honor choir, Wenner's second. They had to undergo an audition process similar to the one used for the national choirs, with each being asked to submit an audition CD containing an a capella song and scale.

They received notification of their selection in early November.

"I was pretty excited," Wenner said. As for the concert, held Feb. 15 at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis (next to the Minneapolis Convention Center), Wenner said, "It was fun. The acoustics (in the church sanctuary) were amazing."

"It was one of the best honor choirs I have ever heard," Larson said. "They truly sounded like a college choir -- they sang with such maturity and expression. I was honestly thrilled with their performance. I couldn't stop smiling."

Another of Larson's students, Phylicia Johnson, also took part in the Minnesota All-State Mixed Choir with the Minnesota Music Teachers Association. Her experience culminated in a massed choir concert at Orchestra Hall, accompanied by the Minnesota Orchestra. (Johnson was unable to be present for the interview on Wednesday.)

"I'm very proud of all of them," Larson said of her national honor choir, state honor choir and all-state choir participants.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454