1113 Spain Park Choir
Alex Slocum, Elizabeth McGehee, Katie Chunn, Eleanor Watson, Madeline Ussery, Juliet Jackson, Marie Baroody, Dani Justice.
When Charles Henry first walked the halls of Spain Park High, the school choir hardly had a pulse.
The newly minted choir director knew he had his work cut out for him, especially when he realized his freshman membership numbered all of six singers. For Henry, though, passion meant a lot more than having an impressive head count.
“Really my job is to teach these students how to be better young men and women,” he said. “It’s through music that I am able to do that. These kids are learning about responsibility, time management, working with other people and having to do something extra. Choir is considered an extracurricular. My feeling about it is, if you are choosing to do more than you have to do already, do the best you can.”
And they are. The choir has come a long way since 2009, Henry’s first year on the job, when he and his students were working to rebuild the choir for the sheer love of it. Today, when members spontaneously burst into song in the hallways, they are rewarded with appreciative applause from their peers.
Now more than 100 members strong, the group has hit its stride and gained regional acclaim through impressive appearances at area competitions. That visibility, combined with the achievements of the three classes of Spain Park alumni who have graduated under Henry, led to what is considered to be the ultimate invitation for the musically inclined — a chance to perform at Carnegie Hall.
On Sunday evening, Nov. 17, Spain Park choir members will take center stage in the Stern Auditorium of the famed music hall to participate in the New England Symphonic Ensemble.
By way of invitation from John Ratledge, director of choral activities at The University of Alabama, who also is co-conducting the performance, Spain Park choir members will join other regional invitees from Alabama, Georgia and Texas in a mass choir ensemble of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, presented by MidAmerica Productions.
“An invitation like this validates what we’ve been doing, and how we’ve been working to present ourselves as an ensemble,” said Henry.
Spain Park Principal Ken Jarnagin is not surprised.
“Several Spain Park choral alumni are currently studying music at Alabama, where they are also in Dr. Ratledge’s choir,” said Jarnagin. “He’s expressed his appreciation of our Spain Park singers on several occasions, having heard them sing at concerts and choral music festivals. Based on that, he recommended our choir for this prestigious honor, where selection is based upon the quality of literature, quality of student, and the high level of our musical presentations.”
To keep delivering on that reputation, Jarnagin, a former band director and avid supporter of the arts, commended participating students, both for the honor and for the extra preparation it demands.
“The students traveling to New York will be preparing the music outside of the regular school day,” he said. “While this trip is extracurricular, there are also additional requirements of a singer above and beyond what is already expected from those in the music program at Spain Park.”
That preparation is considerable.
The work, Lux Aeterna (“eternal light” in Latin) is a five-movement piece, composed for a choir and orchestra, that runs 30 minutes in length.
“Every piece has something to do with light or light shining down, where Christ is the light of the world,” Henry said. “It’s pretty deep. We’ve gotten into what the text is saying but also what the music is saying.”
Much of that work happened this past summer after Henry got his hands on 60 donated copies of the work, courtesy of a colleague at The University of North Alabama, and began to host sectional rehearsals.
“I was impressed that these kids were willing to come up to the school in the summer, not for a grade but because this is something they know we need to do to make this performance the best it can be,” Henry said.
On their own time, students also have been using cyberbass.com to learn notes and rhythm.
“When they are with me, we can focus on text, pronunciation and interpretation,” he said. “It’s a more informal setting than a classroom. We can really explore what is happening and get to know each other and the music better rather than the pressure of, ‘This is just for a grade.’”
For Emily Saab, a choir member since 2009, summer rehearsals were a reward, reflective of four years of resolve and hard work, to build the choir and even have a chance at such accolades.
“Even though the choir was struggling to regroup in the earlier of my years at Spain Park, I never thought of doing anything else,” she said. “What I’ve found in my experience with choir is that it has a sense of community for support but also gives people the chance to be individuals. So whether the choir was struggling or excelling didn’t really matter to me because it was home.
“Still, to be where we are now, having been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall, is a great validation of all the work we put into being a great choir,” she said.
Selections from the choir’s November performance will be presented at Spain Park’s Winter Concert. Henry and Jarnagin are also working on a schedule of 2014 events to help showcase the group to the greater community.
“I think people will be really surprised to hear what we can do,” said Saab. “Spain Park has a reason to be proud of their choir again.”
The Hoover Sun will include information about upcoming choir performances as they are scheduled.