A bus breaking down on the way home from a competition may be a bump in the road for some schools, but for Fairmont Senior High School chorus members, they were still riding off the excitement from earlier.
And for very good reason. Last month, 73 FSHS students from the Madrigal Choir, Men’s Chorus, Women’s Chorus and the Barbershop Quartet traveled to Toronto, Canada, to compete in five divisions at the Festivals of Music Competition.
Altogether, the choirs excelled not only in groups but also individually. Soloist medals were awarded to Kristen Zirkle, John Mark Shaver and Aaron Worth, and Randy Stickley was honored with the special vocalist medal.
Each group that competed was recognized for its performances. Three of those groups — the Madrigal Choir, the Mixed Choir AA and Barbershop Quartet — received superior ratings, claiming first place in their respective divisions. Also taking first place, the Men’s Choir and Women’s Choir received excellent ratings, something director Janet Zirkle was extremely proud of with such a young group. Many of the members were freshmen in their first year of choir.
Working with freshmen who have yet to master the techniques made it a challenge, and most schools choose not to include freshmen in competition. But Zirkle wouldn’t have it any other way.
“To me, I would rather see all the kids be involved and get that experience," Zirkle said. "So, I take kids that are in their first year of choir, and for them to go up there and bring home an excellent rating, as picky as those judges are, that's amazing.”
It didn’t stop there. As a whole, the FSHS chorus was honored with the Overall High School Choir Award, which is given to the highest-scoring ensemble in all categories, and the Esprit de Corps Award. The Esprit de Corps Award is based on exemplary attitude of positive support and outstanding personal behavior.
To top it off, it was the highest scores they had ever received.
Considering the level of difficulty in the music, especially in Mixed Choir AA, which is the highest difficulty of music, it’s even more special. Zirkle is not a believer in taking the easy road.
Riding on this wave of excitement, the group was thrilled that it were granted an extra night in Buffalo, N.Y., after their bus broke down.
“Everything was going perfectly, and then the bus broke down,” Zirkle said. “We had to laugh.”
During the week before the competition, Zirkle had a glimpse as to how her students would fare when they performed a song and just looked at her once they were finished with bright, gleaming eyes.
“They all look at me with this bright-eyed look, like, ‘Wow,’ because they finally reach it,” she said. “More than that, I want people to really feel the music, to get the joy or whatever the music is trying to convey. Then we have people come up to us and say, ‘You have been a blessing today.’ That makes it for me.”
Still excited over the trip, sophomore Andy Shaw thought their selection of music, which included songs like “Ave Maria,” “Il Bianco” and “Laudate Pueri,” was perfect for the audience. After months of practice, he said the music, the vowels, the notes and even the contrast in music from one piece to the next was so natural for him and his fellow classmates.
“It was very well thought out because it was very different styles of music in every category and we would do one piece that would really bring the audience in to this feeling and then we'd go to the next piece, and it would be a whole other side to the spectrum,” Shaw said. “I thought we did a pretty awesome job.”
In her first musical competition, sophomore Mattison Koch looked at is a good learning experience.
“It was a fun experience,” she said. “It’s very memorable, and I love working with Ms. Zirkle. She’s the best teacher ever.”
More than anything else, Zirkle could see these kids wanted it, wanted it badly enough that determination pulled them through the competition.
“They really cared," Zirkle said. “They wanted to feel really good about what they did, and they did it. This group has been wonderful to work with. They all pulled together.”
To top off their outstanding year, the Fairmont Senior High School chorus invites the public to its spring concert to be held on Thursday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m.