Southmoreland High School junior Abby Whitlatch, alongside seniors Kaelei Whitlatch and Cole Leasher, attended county chorus last month at Burrell High School, bearing the cold weather and arriving late to the first day of rehearsal due to a two-hour delay. However, when they arrived the students, especially Abby, quickly adapted to the atmosphere and greatly enjoyed the memorable experience.
“It was simply amazing to be a part of an amazing, talented, and kind group of people. It was such a welcoming environment that I didn’t mind the weather,” she said.
Abby has attended county chorus for three years in total: 6th grade, 8th grade, and this year. She said that the experience in high school was vastly different than from middle school, moreover due to the inclement weather issues.
“Now that I’m older I appreciated the music and the experience as a whole more,” she said, “It was also odd due to the delay and such, but that barely took away from the overall experience. The festival also greatly assisted with my shyness. I was able to explore more genres of music and open up to others.”
Mrs. Michele Zamperini has been attending county chorus with her students throughout her entire fourteen year career as a teacher at Southmoreland. This year, she was very thankful for Burrell’s preparedness in case a major inclement weather event would occur.
“The hosting school was aware of the weather situation and sent out an email the night before the festival,” she said. “Several schools were delayed the next day. It was a bonus to have been prepared.”
Despite the delay on the first day, she believes that the event had an extremely positive effect on the three students that attended. Not only does she believe that this event is beneficial for her students, but herself as well.
“I feel it gives them a chance to meet great singers from other schools, an opportunity to conquer challenging musical literature, receive instruction from another Director, and always a fantastic banquet,” she said. “I always enjoy observing the guest conductors. They usually are college professors or individuals who excel in the Choral World. I also try to catch the warm up sessions and bring the new exercises back to my classroom. I will also often feature the participants in some way during our own concerts.”
Mrs. Zamperini also emphasizes the fact that county chorus offers so much more than what could be possible in her classroom at Southmoreland. Furthermore, the students take the new challenge in stride and enjoy the change from the classroom.
“The students typically enjoy being a part of the amazing harmony that is produced at county chorus. We usually don’t have the luxury of having 80 talented guys in the general chorus,” Mrs. Zamperini said. “There is something special about hearing 40 Tenors sing in tune. Sometimes students really enjoy a piece so much that they ask if Highlander Choir can learn and perform it, and that certainly speaks for itself. ”
Senior Cole Leasher is no stranger when it comes to county chorus; he has been participating every year since 10th grade. The festival allowed him to learn many new things about music: namely how to warm up to reach higher notes and how to strengthen said notes. He also met many new people from around the area, whom he quickly made friends with.
“I sat by Danny Ebeling from Mt. Pleasant and another boy from Latrobe,” Leasure said. “We had a good time cracking jokes and singing. Despite preferring some of the songs that we sang over previous years and the feeling of being out of place due to lack of male participation this year, I will I miss attending county chorus. Hearing how the choir sounds when it comes together is something to treasure. I will miss the sound of a choir where experienced singers are put together as one; that’s not something I’m typically used to when at school.”
Kaelei Whitlatch, senior, attended county chorus for the first and last time this year. Despite it being her first time attending and being the last school there due to the delay, she enjoyed every moment of the festival.
“I was surrounded by many talented students and we performed some challenging pieces of music. I was able to step outside of my comfort zone with many of the song selections,” she said. “Being the last ones there and having [the delay] as my first impression was interesting. It was only a small blip in the entire experience though, I enjoyed it so much.”
Whitlatch was also very impacted by the songs sung. Her parents enjoyed them extensively as well, and applauded Kaelei and her sister’s performance.
“Even though the concert is long over, I still sing some of the songs around my house. Some were very fun, while others were very serious and emotional. One of the songs was titled “Hold Fast to Dreams” which was based on a poem by Langston Hughes, and it was especially touching to me. The male piece was entitled “Tell My Father” from the musical the Civil War, and it was very emotional to hear my peer from Mount Pleasant Danny Ebeling sing a solo within that song,” she said. “My parents called our performance “flawless” and we were given a standing ovation. I loved the feeling of the audience’s applause paying off for our hard work.”
One of the students’ favorite aspects of county chorus this year was the guest conductor, Dr. Ryan Beeken. They all greatly enjoyed his teaching techniques and his dedication to the program.
“The conductor Dr. Ryan Beeken was very inspiring and funny, he was very knowledgeable about music and made us get in touch with our emotions in the pieces. I enjoyed Dr. Beeken’s cheerful personality and heartwarming insights,” Kaelei Whitlatch said. “Dr. Beeken’s guidance and spirit was extremely inspiring, and I wish I could have him as a teacher.”
“I believe that Dr. Beeken was the best director out of the three years of participating in county chorus,” Leasure said. “He gave strategies to achieve the correct notes or pitches with hand gestures or facial movements. He also helped to bring together the people and the songs, while setting an overall great mood”
“Dr. Beeken was incredible,” Abby Whitlatch said. “He had an upbeat personality and his excitement for performance rubbed off on you. Time flew when having fun with Dr. Beeken.”
“I greatly enjoyed singing a very challenging acapella African piece during the festival,” Kaelei Whitlatch said. “The way Dr. Beeken taught it was particularly interesting as he taught us the words and melodies without music. It featured each vocal group and then transitioned into the entire ensemble echoing the sopranos. I hope that we can do this piece in our honors choir at Southmoreland, Highlander.”
Despite her sister graduating this year, Abby Whitlatch said she is looking forward to participating in county chorus next year.
“It’ll be a great experience for my senior year, and I can’t wait until then,” she said.