"Mason City Choir 'Unbelievable'; Awaits Verdict"
Monday, May 3, 1999
By Jan Horgen, Of The Globe-Gazette
"You must look deep within and share something of yourself with the judges, with the audience, with each other," Joel Everist, director of the Mason City High School Concert Choir told the 78 singers moments before their competition performance in the National Invitational Choral Festival.
"Give from your heart. Use the music to lift your burdens up and let them go. And know that when you give like that, of yourself, your song becomes art."
It was time and they were ready.
The Sunday afternoon performance, judged by a panel of eight nationally renowned music clinicians, was the culmination of their trek to Washington, D.C. - the focus of the past year of rehearsals and performances and competitions.
Tension crackled in the rehearsal room of the John Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts in Columbia, Md., as the choir prepared.
But as the group stepped onto the competition risers and began to sing, the tension dissipated, the music resonated, and a hush fell in the auditorium.
Like stepping stones, the songs built one on another until the final number, "Bandari: Inside These Walls," by Iowa composer Ben Allawy. Coupled with the African drums and the dancers - who interpreted lyrics about burden, weariness and longing that end with the promise of freedom-the music was art.
As the last chords faded into silence, the audience, including dozens of fellow competitors from around the country, broke out in appreciative applause.
Anton Armstrong, professor of music at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and one of the clinician judges, praised the MCHS choir's performance in a clinical session following the stage competition.
"You sing with such wonderful richness, full of spirit," said Armstrong. "You let the music blossom, as it was meant to do."
For a half-hour, Armstrong worked with the choir before leaving them with one last compliment, "You can all be very, very proud of yourselves and your performance here today."
The choir members themselves knew they had given their best.
Jon Feustel said, "The spirit was there, the feeling was there, it all came together and I am more than hopeful that we will be in the top eight."
"It was very, very emotional," said Sarah Spalla. "We were so caught up in the music. It was great, exciting to share the music like that."
Spalla added she was "really, really relieved" to be finished with the competitive portion of the festival.
Reflecting on the entire Washington, D.C., experience, Tonya Wyborny said, "We've done so much and seen so much already, but today we were so focused. The music was so good."
Nate Keen agreed, "It was a rush. It was one of those days where everyone puts aside their differences and we come together. You could feel the music ... an emotional experience you'll always remember."
The choir is attempting to be one of the top eight and earn a chance to perform center-stage in the Kennedy Center tonight.
The competition results will be announced this afternoon and the festival will conclude this evening with select choirs, a mass choir and concert choir performances in the Kennedy Center.
Keen's parents, Wendy and Will, were among the Mason City contingent who traveled to watch the choir. Wendy was moved to tears by the performance.
"They sang with such deep feeling. I am so proud of the whole choir," she said. "It was moving and so beautiful. I've never heard anything like it."
But, at the end of the day, it was one word from their director that unleashed the choir's emotion.
"Unbelievable," said Everist with a smile and a slight bow to the singers. It brought a roar of cheers from the choir.
"Now it's out of our hands," Everist said.
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