By Ammie Bryant, Editor
A little over five years ago, I first heard about Stillwater Honor Choir (SHC), a community children’s choir for kids in grades 3-12. SHC is a non-profit organization whose activities are overseen by a parent advisory board. Tuition covers the expenses of running the program. Music direction is provided by Dr. Julia Haley and Mrs. Trish Ranson. The SHC program benefits from the musical talents and leadership of a variety of other professional music teachers as well as an internship program.
When I first learned about SHC, I had a second grader who loved to sing, but didn’t have many opportunities to explore her joy in doing so. I set out on a fact-finding mission and I was surprised when I had some difficulty tracking down the information–this was before the SHC had a facebook page. After a bit of research, I was able to determine that auditions were held at the beginning of each school year and open to young singers starting in third grade. So I made a note in my calendar and promised my daughter that I wouldn’t forget.
We weren’t sure how the auditions would work, but we showed up at the Seretean Center at the appointed time for the open try-outs. We were greeted warmly by Dr. Julia Haley who welcomed me and my daughter into her office where she worked one-on-one with my eight year old. She asked my little girl to match various pitches that she demonstrated using her piano and voice; and Dr. Haley coached her along to help her find the right notes. The audition didn’t take more than ten minutes and when it was over Dr. Haley generously announced that my daughter had done a wonderful job and welcomed her to Stillwater Honor Choir. That was it, there was nothing scary or intimidating about the “audition” at all. “Dr. J”–as the kids in the choir all call her–made the whole process safe and painless. The audition simply helps the SHC instructors determine each student’s vocal maturity and experience so that they can be placed in the appropriate choir. The SHC is actually made of three smaller choirs, which are tiered according to age, maturity, and experience of the singers.
This April will mark the end of our family’s fifth year with the Stillwater Honor Choir–which our family has come to know as one of the community’s best outlets for young vocalists. Our daughter began in the Preparatory Choir in third grade, where the kids focused on learning to develop good choral tone, breath management, posture, and beginning music reading skills. By fifth grade, she was ready to move on to Concert Choir (grades 6-8) which focuses on part-singing with more advanced instruction in vocal technique, musicianship, and performance skills. She is looking forward to advancing in a year or so to Belle Voci, an ensemble of older singers (grades 9-12) who work on part singing, music reading, and developing the vocal and aural skills of changing voices.
The Stillwater Honor Choir has been around since the fall of 2004, when the Stillwater Boys Choir and the Stillwater Girls Choir combined. Over the past twelve years, the choir has met at the Seretean Center once a week during the regular school year for rehearsals with a concert at the end of each semester. Most summers, the SHC has also put on a week-long summer music camp for area students with a concert at the end of the week.
Over the years, there have been occasional invitations to perform at other events such as fundraisers, holiday parties at retirement homes, or music conferences like the Oklahoma Music Educators Association. Yet, despite these occasional invitations, the Choir has gone largely unnoticed by those in the community outside of the music community until this past year. The invitations began last summer with a performance for the Oklahoma Choral Directors Association mid-July 2015) followed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship organization in mid-October 2015. In early November, the SHC was asked to sing at the memorial honoring the victims of the Homecoming Parade tragedy at Gallagher Iba Arena. In December, the choir sang at the lighting ceremony on the OSU Library lawn and was invited to perform for the Stillwater League of Women Voters. Finally, in March, the SHC traveled to Edmond Santa Fe High School to perform with the Oklahoma Youth Orchestra Philharmonic.
The Stillwater Honor Choir not only strives to provide quality music education for its participants, the organization also helps train future music educators through a Music Intern mentoring program. Each semester music education majors have the unique opportunity to work with young singers and gain experience in front of an ensemble before their student teaching semester. These interns are mentored by the group’s instructors and are given valuable feedback to improve their teaching. One of this year’s interns is Miss Renae Perry, who is also an SHC alumnus. Renae joined the choir when she was in third grade and remained a member until graduation. After graduation, she transitioned to the internship program when she entered the music department at the University. Renae serves as an excellent role model for those young singers in the program who dream of pursuing a career in music education.
The SHC will celebrate the end of its thirteenth season on Saturday, April 30, with its final concert of the school year. The time of the performance had not yet been announced at the time of this writing, but may be found on the Stillwater Honor Choir’s Facebook page as soon as it is available at https://www.facebook.com/StillwaterHonorChoir/. The concert is open free to the public and those who might be interested in joining the choir are especially encouraged to attend, as the Choir seeks to grow its membership–boys are especially needed to help balance out the choir’s sound.
Be on the lookout for the announcement about Music Camp this summer. This weeklong day camp has always been one of the highlights of my daughter’s summer activities. She assures our readers, “It’s really fun!”