WHS “contest concert” is Monday evening

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington High School (WHS) gymnasium will take a break from the squeaks of basketball sneakers and bouncing balls Monday evening when the school's four large-group music ensembles perform their annual "contest concert" there...

Melanie Loy conducts Worthington High School students earlier this week as they rehearse for Monday's Contest Concert. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - The Worthington High School (WHS) gymnasium will take a break from the squeaks of basketball sneakers and bouncing balls Monday evening when the school’s four large-group music ensembles perform their annual “contest concert” there at 7 p.m.

Strains of choral music from the Concert and Trojan Choirs will float to the rafters, along with a little Handel from the WHS Orchestra and some Appalachian flair shared by the WHS Concert Band.

“Last year, this concert was cancelled due to a blizzard, and an attempt to reschedule it was also the victim of bad weather,” explained Melanie Loy, director of the 64-member orchestra.


With no snow in the forecast until Tuesday, the WHS music instructors hope the Monday concert will offer audiences the chance to hear a diverse blend of musical literature that students have been fine-tuning with the help of skilled regional clinicians.

“Russell Svenningsen was here on Monday to hear the choirs,” said Kerry Johnson, WHS choral director.

“He offered feedback on what they were doing well, plus some tips on areas in which they could improve.”

Svenningsen, an associate professor of music and director of the University Chorale at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., listened to the same tunes parents and community members can hear sung on Monday evening.


“He addressed vocal phrasing and the importance of text in communicating the music’s message,” mentioned Johnson. “He also discussed dynamics as tone colors rather than just ‘loud’ and ‘soft.’”

Johnson has 130 singers in her two choirs. The Trojan Choir will perform Bradley Ellingboe’s arrangement of “How Can I Keep from Singing” and “The Awakening” by Joseph M. Martin.

“The numbers pair well because both are about finding inner strength - that’s a great message for high school students, to discover something you’re passionate about and hang on to it,” Johnson suggested.

Her Concert Choir students will present an a cappella ballad, “Jenny” and a rhythmic piece with a world music feel, “Baba Yetu” by Christopher Tin.


“’Baba Yetu’ was actually written for the video game Civilization IV,” Johnson said. “The text is the Lord’s Prayer sung in Swahili.”

Junior Stephanie Lowry and senior Alex Scholtes will be featured soloists during “Baba Yetu.”

Melanie Loy’s string students are set to share two movements from Handel’s Concerto Grosso, as well as “Mantras” by contemporary composer Richard Meyer.

“They’re enjoying the Handel very much, although it was hard for them to grasp it initially,” she said. “Now they’re playing it well; they enjoy digging into the classical pieces.”

“Mantras” is “rhythmically fun and harmonically has some beautiful chords,” Melanie Loy noted. “It contains a variety of layering effects, with a back and forth voicing between the sections.”

Dr. Christopher Stanichar, conductor of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra and the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra, spent an hour this week working with the WHS Orchestra on the two selections.

“He helped us fine-tune some parts, presented style suggestions and encouraged the students to think about the meaning of a ‘mantra,” she listed.

“It was helpful having the adjudication session prior to the concert so the students and I can apply what we learned from him and were coached on.”

The 140-member WHS Concert Band, under the direction of Jon Loy, will perform Carl Strommen’s “Cumberland Cross” and “Festa!” by Elliot Del Borgo on Monday evening.

“‘Cumberland Cross’ has an Appalachian flavor to it and really features the woodwinds and brass,” Jon Loy pointed out.

“It’s more melodic and slower than the band’s second number, ‘Festa,’ which is very fast-paced and challenges the band to make clean, crisp articulations.”

With such a large band, Jon Loy says “Cumberland Cross” offers his players a chance to prove they can play softly as well as forcefully.

“The contest concert is always a highlight for the WHS music department because it serves as a benchmark as to where we are with talent and ability, and the degree of difficulty in the music literature selected,” he said.

Johnson also values the contest concert for what her groups can gain from an outsider’s expertise and feedback.

“It’s great to have another perspective, and sometimes a clinician repeats what I’ve already told the choirs - that’s helpful - or introduces something new to all of us that we can learn and incorporate,” said Johnson.

At the same time, Melanie Loy believes audiences will enjoy hearing the outcome of the musical workshops, with the clinicians’ insights hopefully incorporated into the performance.

“We can apply what was learned, and it’s a little less of a pressure cooker for the students this way,” she said.

Added Jon Loy, “There are 227 individual WHS students participating in the school’s music program, and many of those are in more than one music activity.

“We keep seeing growth in all of the large performing groups as kids continue to seek school involvement and explore their talents.”

The WHS music department’s Contest Concert takes place Monday at 7 p.m. in the WHS gymnasium. This concert is free and open to the public.

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