Clarke County High School senior, Kaitlyn Dykes and junior, Megan Wilson spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Tysons Corner. But the pair wasn’t on a three-day shopping spree. Dykes and Wilson are representing Clarke County High School in the 2010 All Virginia Mixed Choir workshop held this week at the Sheraton Premiere hotel in Vienna, Virginia.
More than 700 of Virginia’s finest high school voices assembled for three days of intensive vocal training and choral instruction from world-class choir directors. While angelic vocal chords are a pre-requisite for admittance, physical stamina is also necessary for practice sessions that begin at 6:30 a.m. and “lights-out” not until 11:00 p.m. The three-day music marathon is packed with rehearsals, choral theory, and instruction; capped off by a formal choral performance Saturday morning in the Sheraton Premiere’s Grand Ballroom.
Junior Megan Wilson says that she had not previously been involved in choir before discovering it at Clarke County High School. “I really enjoy the music and the support that I get from all of the other kids in the choir,” Wilson beamed. “It’s a really positive environment and the music fun to learn and perform.” Kaitlyn Dykes adds “Mr. Keybaugh is a great director. He makes us work hard, but I still love it.”
Clarke County High School has a women’s choir, chamber choir, and concert choir with over 70 student participants. Wilson and Dykes, along with 16 other Clarke choir students, participated in District competition held at Handley High School last November in Winchester. Only Dykes and Wilson were selected for the All Virginia Mixed Choir event.
Dr. Ryan Keybaugh is Clarke County High School’s choir director and the maestro behind the choir program’s popularity and success. Keybaugh says that he likes to provide the students with exposure to a wide range of musical genres like world-beat, classical, folk and spirituals. “We learn music from all over the world and music from different time periods,” Keybaugh said. “My goal is to help the kids expand their vocal repertoire and choral techniques.”
Megan Wilson says that her favorite performance pieces are spirituals because the choir, “gets to move with the music,” during the performance. “With the spirituals I can really feel the music,” Wilson said. Dykes says that she enjoys classical romantic selections the most.
Preparation for the All Virginia Choir workshop begins months in advance of the three-day session. Participants receive sheet music and audio recordings of the pieces to be covered in the work sessions months in advance. Choir Director Keybaugh says that students are expected to know the music thoroughly before arriving at the All Virginia Choir sessions.
Friday morning’s practice session demonstrated Keybaugh’s warning about the necessity for practice and preparation. Nearly 300 young mixed choir students from across Virginia were assembled around the dais where choral conductor Dr. Z. Randall Stroope motivated and demanded their best musical efforts. Stroope is one of the world’s most active choral conductors and composers and performs at venues around the world. During the practice session, Stroope showed no hesitation in asking individual choir members to individually perform before their peers. Stroope did not hesitate in offering praise or criticism intended to improve the choir’s performance. Students who may not have practiced as much as they had intended quickly understood Stroope’s high expectations. Performance selections ranged from “I Will Greatly Rejoice” and “Soldier, Soldier Won’t You Marry Me” to “Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11.” Also included was a piece composed by Stroope himself, “I Am Not Yours.” (Click here to here an excerpt from the 2010 All Virginia Mixed Choir rehearsal session.)
Ryan Keybaugh says that Clarke’s choir is growing quickly and he is enthusiastic about its future. The choir was recently invited to perform at the United Nations in New York City, but Keybaugh said the offer was reluctantly declined due to budget cutbacks. Undaunted, Keybaugh is working with the choir’s booster organization to raise money for future projects. On June 5th the Clarke County Choir will be hosting the “Battle of the Bands” fundraiser featuring eight high school bands competing in a judged competition. The event is open to the public.