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Taking it to state

Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe Worthington students Rachel Sternke (left) and Emma Jirele were named to the All-State choir.

WORTHINGTON -- Seven music-minded students will represent Worthington in the Twin Cities this week as part of selective state-level music groups.

Worthington High School (WHS) senior Rachel Sternke is set to make her second appearance at Orchestra Hall on Saturday. Sternke qualified for the 2011 All-State Mixed Choir, and this year the Alto 1 is joined in the All-State Women's Choir by her junior section-mate Emma Jirele.

"Rachel's selection for a second year in an All-State choir speaks to her ability," said Kerry Johnson. Johnson, in her third year as the WHS director of choral activities, is pleased to be sending the most students to state groups in her tenure to date.

"Really, this is a testament to the hard work all these students do, as well as to their natural talent and dedication to their craft," Johnson added.

Sternke and Jirele were among several WHS students who spent weeks preparing art song solos, brushing up on their sight-reading and practicing tonal memory last winter before traveling to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter last March for a live All-State audition.

"We're really fortunate in this district to have so many students take on the challenge each spring to complete the audition process, which is quite a task in itself," Johnson said. "It takes a lot of extra work for the students involved, and support from their families, and I appreciate having so many kids who are willing to try."

After learning of their selection later in the spring, Jirele and Sternke attended a week-long All-State camp at St. Olaf College last summer to learn the five numbers they will rehearse Friday and perform Saturday morning in concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, as part of the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA) annual convention.

Additionally, four boys --sophomore tenors Alex Purdy and Jaren Solt, along with freshmen D.J. Berger (tenor) and Ivan Parga (baritone) will participate in the American Choral Directors Association-sponsored 9th/10th grade Honor Choir.

"Their process began at the start of the school year, with recordings completed at the end of October," explained Johnson of the boys. "Their audition recordings were sent in for a blind audition process, and of the over 2,000 students who tried out, they were among the 130 selected."

The four boys will be part of a day-long rehearsal Thursday before performing in concert Thursday evening at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

All six of the qualifying WHS choral students sing in either the WHS Concert or Trojan Choir, and each of them is in at least one of the school's extracurricular choirs (Vox, Trojan Express or Bel Canto). In addition, each of the six was involved in the recent WHS musical, "Grease."

Purdy, who is also a varsity hockey player, was a tech crew member in "Grease," while Parga and Solt were seen as Frenchy's "teen angels," Berger was in the chorus, and Sternke and Jirele were featured as Rizzo and Sandy, respectively.

"I like the people in choir and the atmosphere of it," Purdy said of his choral pursuits. "We're there to work hard and sound the best we can, but we have fun at the same time."

Purdy said he has learned a good deal about music during his time in choir, and he said he auditioned for the 9th/10th Honor Choir because he is interested in trying out next year for an All-State choir.

"I was really surprised I got in, actually," he said. "My favorite song the honor choir is singing is 'Lion of the Heart,' which was written for the group. I'm looking forward to experiencing it."

Jirele, who is also a percussionist in the WHS band, said her All-State choir week already has helped her grow as a musician.

"I enjoyed working with all the amazing instructors and meeting all sorts of new people," she said. "I haven't been to Orchestra Hall before, so that will be a cool experience."

Both Jirele and Sternke said that a piece called "No Time," which Jirele characterizes as "a folk song that is really fun to sing," is one they are eager to perform this Saturday.

Sternke said her two All-State experiences have taught her a lot.

"I loved being in the mixed choir last year, but this year I've also loved every second of the women's choir," Sternke said. "All-State defies logic, in a way; all these people with only one thing in common come together and make something that sounds beautiful."

Sternke has explored every aspect of the WHS music program during her high school years; besides being section leader for the Soprano IIs in the WHS Concert Choir, she is a trumpeter in the band, a violinist in the school's orchestra and is currently in the AP music theory class.

"I treasure the opportunities I've had here, and it's all been so much fun," attested Sternke, saying director Johnson was supportive and easy to work with in her All-State audition preparations each year.

Johnson in turn calls Sternke "a natural musician with a wonderful sense of phrasing." Sternke currently plans to attend Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, with thoughts of pursuing an English education major and a minor in music.

One Worthington Middle School eighth grader likely to follow Sternke's example of multiple musical involvement at WHS next year is Cameron Jenson, the seventh ISD 518 student and lone instrumentalist to appear in a state-level group this week. Jenson will play the trumpet with the Minnesota Jazz Education Association Mid-Level Honors Jazz Ensemble on Friday, but he is also a cellist, pianist and vocalist.

Jirele, who is in the midst of preparing a solo piece for her 2012 All-State choral audition, advises other student musicians interested in honors groups thusly: "Take a risk and try it; you never know, it might work out."