Seymour High School’s choral department recently went 4-for-4 at a singing event.
Each performing three songs Saturday during the Indiana State School Music Association Festival at Columbus East High School, colla voce (beginning women), men’s choir, sirenas (advanced women) and show choir (mixed choir) all earned gold ratings in performance and sight-reading.
Since it was Seymour’s first time attending the event in six years, first-year director Kyle Karum said he was pleasantly surprised with the results.
“I think they just didn’t have any level of expectation. They had never been to this before, so they were just kind of open-minded about the day,” he said. “When we all got golds across the board, they went, ‘Wow! This is cool.’ I’m really, really proud of them. They worked really hard, and they really showed a willingness to succeed.”
Karla Shutters accompanied each choir. She is in her 15th year of working with the school’s music department.
“I was pleasantly surprised because I wasn’t sure with our sight-reading and stuff how we were going to come out,” she said. “I was really thinking we might be lucky to pull off silver, but a gold would be awesome. When he said gold across the board, I was like, ‘Really?’ These kids haven’t done this because we haven’t done it for several years, so I think they are warming up to doing and trying new things.”
Directors placed their choirs in one of five level categories based on ability, with 1 being advanced choirs and 5 being beginning choirs. For Seymour, the show choir was in 1, sirenas was in 2 and colla voce and men’s choir were in 3.
Each choir had to sing at least one song from a list provided by the ISSMA, and genres varied.
After touching on three songs in a warmup, each choir performed in front of three judges and an audience. That was followed by sight-reading, which is the skill of singing a piece of sheet music that you’ve never seen before, in front of one judge.
Ratings were given based on standards, so it was a non-competitive festival. Choirs also were assessed on poise and professionalism.
Of the students Karum has in the four choirs, about 160 of them were available to perform Saturday. Colla voce consists of 100 girls; the men’s choir has 42 members; sirenas has 20 girls; and show choir has 39 boys and girls.
With Seymour operating on a block schedule, Karum said the choirs worked on their songs two to three days a week. Some had been working on them since January, while others learned their songs a few weeks before the festival.
Some of those class days, however, were interrupted by testing, snow days and spring break. Plus, each choir had to learn an additional piece for a concert this past Wednesday.
Senior Noah Bullard, a member of the show choir, said Karum helped the students be prepared for the festival, which was a new experience for everyone.
“With music, you have the benefit of the doubt,” Bullard said. “If your choir teacher says, ‘All right, you need to prepare these three songs for the competition,’ you may not know the circumstances under which you are performing them. But if you know your music and you’re ready to go, then it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Junior Peyton Heyne, who also is in the show choir, said it was lot more formal than she was expecting.
“It’s kind of a lot of pressure, but we prepared our songs, and we worked on them really hard, so I was pretty proud of our performance,” she said. “I think all of the parts kind of locked when we were performing.”
Bullard said he thought the show choir performed with confidence.
“One of the things that we got graded on was poise and professionalism, and I think the fact that everybody knew what they were doing, why they were there, everybody knew their part, that really helped,” he said.
When Karum shared the results with the show choir, everyone was excited.
“We had never really been to these formal competitions, and I think for us to go and get gold, that’s a big deal,” Heyne said. “I think that since we’ve had so many changes in directors, choir has never really been like a big deal. But now, we can show off and say we’re something worth listening to.”
Seymour has had a different choral director each of the past four years.
“I’ve been through four directors, and I think it really speaks to how talented this program is and how much depth we’ve really had over the last few years because most programs couldn’t go through that sort of change and still be performing at a consistently high level,” Bullard said.
When Karum learned Seymour hadn’t been to a festival in six years, he wanted to make it a priority.
“I think every choir director, every music director needs to have some sort of goal. I think this was ours,” he said.
“I gave them this date in August, and I mentioned it at least once a week ever since, so they knew about it, and they knew I was excited about it,” he said. “I think that some of them matched that and said, ‘Oh, I’m really excited for this, too,’ and some were just kind of like, ‘Well, I’m not sure. We’ve never done this.’ Now that we have a year under our belts, they might be more excited about it in years to come.”
ISSMA state qualifiers are this weekend, and the top 15 Level 1 choirs in the state will move on to perform in a state competition. Karum said one of his choirs could do that next year, but they aren’t eligible this year because they performed in the festival.
“I’m not going to commit us yet because I’ll have to hear what the groups sound like next year,” he said. “If they get in and they start working and they are gung-ho and they are ready, then we will definitely be going to a state qualifier.”