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Spartan Scoop

Spartan Scoop

Inform · Connect · Entertain

Spartan Scoop

AA CHOIR FESTIVAL

Our best MCPS singers get together to make music
Students+in+their+last+rehearsal+before+the+show
Anne Bashor
Students in their last rehearsal before the show

November 13 and 14th, Sentinel was lucky enough to send some of our Spartan choir members to Big Sky high school for the annual AA Choir Festival. Last year was our first time back with the Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) choral reunion since COVID had put it to a halt.
At this festival, our three top choirs from Hellgate, Bigsky, and Sentinel get to work together on four pieces of beautiful music to join as one big choir. On top of this great opportunity to grow together and create a community, the school also welcomes a guest conductor to work with all of the students.
This year the students were lucky enough to have Dr. David Edmonds conduct around 150 of our MCPS choir members. He is talented in his work as a Director of Choral Studies at the University of New Mexico. There he also teaches graduate and undergraduate in conducting and choral repertoire. Edmonds also was welcomed back home as he used to be the Director of Choral activities for six years at the University of Montana here in Missoula. He also is still involved here in Missoula as the director of our community choir Dolce Canto.
One thing that many of the choir teachers at MCPS mention as fortunate, is the fact that Dr. Edmonds is a male. This may seem minute to one who is not in a choral group, but it opened up guidance needed for the male voices in the group.
These highschoolers usually work with one of the many beautiful choir directors at MCPS, who all happen to be female this year. Being able to hear a dynamic, or tone explained by someone else whom you don’t usually work with, was productive and helpful for everyone that was there. These improvements come not only from Dr. Edmonds but also insight from the different directors.
Dr. Edmonds also proved his passion for the art of singing with his gentle, yet funny guidance during rehearsal. His laughter and jokes throughout Monday and Tuesday were very needed for the long days that would have proved boring without his energy.
Nancy Labbe, who is the amazing choir director at Big Sky High School, mentions how lucky we are to have such a great opportunity to have talented directors work with the kids. “This is the most important part,” of the elegant dynamic of the AA Choir Festival, Labbe says.
All choir teachers at MCPS, Labbe (Big Sky), Ellen Mckenzie (Hellgate), and Sonja Funk (Sentinel) explain their love for the community we are able to build with this opportunity.

With a sports team, there are always people on the bench. With music, that doesn’t happen.

— Sonja Funk

Though there is a juxtaposition of chatter, it’s undeniable the rekindling of friendship which happens at events like this and how much it pushes them to continue working hard. Many of the kids went to middle school together, as McKenzie mentions.
All together, the kids involved created a community that is enviable of other programs which interact in MCPS. It’s hard to deny the different dynamic that comes with the interactions that MCPS football teams have, as opposed to the situation of the choir festival.
Funk mentions that, “with a sports team, there are always people on the bench. With music, that doesn’t happen.” The idea of there not being a competition, but rather a unity, is vital to the idea that all the kids from separate schools are now one big unit.
This idea is expressed by all the choir directors, as McKenzie mentions the subjectiveness to the music we all sing. There is no number one, because each choir, each singer, each group of people has their own desirable traits that a listener can feel attracted to.
One member of the audience who has loved music their whole life and has a degree in music education says that they “were impressed by the difficulty of the music performed.” In situations like these, students may find the music intimmidating, but the effort of 2 whole school days of practice and passion all combined, the music ends up performing well. “I really enjoyed seeing all three schools come together and really seemed to support each other.”
Mckenzie mentions that this unity isn’t specific for the choral programs, but also the whole of MCPS music programs. The music programs “like to enjoy each other.” the same as the audience of a show.
Funk explains the atmosphere of all the students working together is an end to any opinions on how one group is better than another. Though there were songs performed by each school separately to share what they’ve been working on themselves, there’s no denying that the unity of one big group proves more moving.
The gathering of these groups isn’t simply a one time thing, in the coming weeks the groups will actually be reuniting for a day trip around Missoula to all the middle schools. This is their annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Tour that recruits kids at all the middle schools to join their music programs.
All together the progression and excitement in this vast group of singers is tangible in their singing at the AA festival. McKenzie shared her excitement on how much of an improvement there was in just the last year in this group. Funk adds that it isn’t elevated by the combination of the already great groups, but rather them working together causes the students to lift eachother up to their full potential.
McKenzie continues to give praise as she mentions this isn’t an easy thing to do, to combine with the mass amount of sound being produced alongside the incorporation of all the other voices you’ve never heard. This festival is a lot of work, and McKenzie acknowledges the effort put into the two days of hard work.
All in all the coming back together with all the amazing choir students was nothing close to a let down. The volume, energy, and passion in the four songs was admirable, and as the choir teachers mention, they hope these form into habit for the future in their separate classes. The standing ovation at the end of the concert wasn’t anything short of deserved.