By Sofia Lynch
In honor of Washtenaw Community College’s 50th anniversary, the school donned the theme “opening doors,” celebrating all the doors they had opened for students throughout those 50 years, and all those they would continue to open. As WCC’s Musical Director Joseph Daniel pointed out, by hosting the District 12 Choral Festival in the Morris Lawrence building last Thursday, WCC once again did just that.
On March 17, nearly 2,500 high school students from Washtenaw County and a few surrounding areas came to WCC’s campus to take part in the Michigan School Vocal Music Association choral festival.
“From a college standpoint, it’s very exciting because as a community college, one of our main missions is to support our community,” Daniel said. “And I think it’s really fitting, here in the 50th year of WCC, our theme is opening doors, and we are literally opening our doors (at the festival).”
The event was coordinated by MSVMA with the help of Daniel, a number of Chamber Singer student liaisons, and Student Activities, along with the sponsorship of the Performing Arts Department. The Chamber Singers served as hosts, room monitors, helpers, announcers, and time-keepers.
18 high school choirs took part in the event, performing two songs each before a judged panel. Outside of their on-stage performance, choirs were also judged on their sight-reading abilities, and received personalized critiques from one of the judge’s who watched their group perform.
“The choir festival is a way to celebrate achievement. To call it a competition is the wrong word, but it’s an opportunity for choral ensembles to present themselves and their work to a panel of professionals and to celebrate their successes,” Daniel said.
Oftentimes, educators are able to use festival results as a way to asses groups, or for their administrators to assess their teaching, Daniel said.
These critiques are only based on a choir’s performance; they are not compared to the performance of other choirs. Although these schools are not judged against each other, many participants say listening to and observing other choirs is the best part of attending these festivals. One Chelsea senior, 17-year-old Gabriel Raines, shared his affinity for being around other talented young people.
“I think seeing the way other choirs and other choir directors do things, that helps build a community,” Raines said. “There’s people that I have seen at other choir events that I just saw on stage and that’s really nice – to see familiar faces and build a community across schools.”
Tracy Jaffe, the adviser of the Chamber Singers, noted how observing other choirs would be a good learning opportunity for members of the club who chose to volunteer as well.
“It’s great for our students to mingle with other choirs and witness other choirs. They’re going to see a lot of directing styles,” Jaffe said. “They can sit and watch these sessions and learn from the feedback this choir is getting and that can only, I think, build the efficacy of their own choir.”
Having this abundance of schools visit campus not only offered a learning opportunity for WCC and high school students, but it also presented WCC as a viable option for high school students still deciding on their future college. Cate Windelborn, the MSVMA festival coordinator and Monroe High School choir director, expressed how her students reacted kindly to WCC.
“For WCC, I think a lot of these kids don’t even know it’s here. So having them come here and see it, it makes it more real to them that that’s out there and it’s a possibility for them,” Windelborn said. “A lot of them made comments about how beautiful the facilities were.”
Many of the Chamber Singers had attended choir festivals in the past with high schools that performed at WCC, so they got to act as an advocate for WCC, and a support system for their past high school choir.
WCC student Adriana Laura attended Saline High School before WCC, and enjoyed listening to different choirs and directing students without having the pressure of a looming performance over her. Laura also got the chance to reunite with her past educators.
17-year-old Abby Coogan of Dexter High School spoke to the importance of having these festivals for students.
“I think it’s really important for schools to participate in it because it just gives you another opportunity to grow musically and see what you could do beyond high school with music,” she said.