Six Centreville High students — Kayla Ebright, Jared Knutti, Lily Park, Patrick McGinty, Joshua Ewalt and Hailey Knapp — have made Virginia’s All-State Choir. And they’ll perform in it, April 26, in Harrisonburg.
“I’m so proud of my kids — they’re awesome,” said Centreville Choral Director Lynne Babcock. “I love my job because they make every day wonderful.”
A senior, Knapp sings both alto and soprano in Bella Voce, the school’s all-female, advanced choir. To qualify for All-State, she and the others first had to audition for and make All-District Chorus before auditioning for All-State in February.
“They take the top four people from each voice part in each district,” she said. “We had to sing ‘Oh, Shenandoah’ in a blind audition to recorded music. Then we sang eight measures of music we’d never seen before. We got 30 seconds to study it and then had to sing it.”
Knapp felt “pretty confident” she’d make All-State since she made it last year. “It’s competitive, but I felt prepared because I’d been working hard with my private voice teacher,” she said. “I really wanted to make it this year because I knew more about it, so I was excited to get the news.”
For the All-State concert, the students will learn five pieces of music on their own and will then work with a conductor there for a couple days before the big event. There are actually two, All-State choirs – one, all girls, for sopranos and altos, and another for both boys and girls singing soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Centreville’s singers are split between the two.
A junior, Ebright’s always liked singing. “It makes me happy if I’m having a bad day,” she said. “I gave performances for my parents when I was in elementary school. Then I focused more seriously in high school and started private voice lessons, which improved my sound quality.”
At Centreville, said Ebright, a soprano, “We work on the technical aspects of singing, like focused sounds, elongated vowels and having expression when you sing.” She’s in Symphonic Choir, the top mixed choir, plus Madrigal, an after-school choir that meets twice weekly and performs in Renaissance costumes. In winter, the members carol at nursing homes and hospitals.
Since she gets nervous auditioning, Ebright didn’t think she’d make All-State. So, she said, “I was really excited when I found out; I knew it would be a good experience. At the concert, we’ll sing one foreign-language song and four other songs. And singing with people from all over the state will be really cool because they’re the top singers in all of Virginia.”
A soprano, junior Park is in Centreville’s Symphonic Choir. “It’s like a break from school and homework to do something I actually like to do,” she said. “I’ve been singing since I was really little. I like performing — it’s really exciting. I also enjoy everything we sing and I listen to all kinds of music. It’s the first year I got to audition for All-State because it’s for juniors and seniors only.”
She, too, gets nervous auditioning, so she “honestly didn’t expect to make it.” But when she did, she was thrilled, and now she’s looking forward to participating. “Last year, being in All-District was really fun, singing with other people and working with a new director,” said Park. “So it was a good experience. This year, we’ll be in Harrisonburg three days and will perform on Saturday, April 26.”
A junior, Ewalt sings tenor in Symphonic Choir and has been singing in choirs since fifth grade. “The great thing about being a male tenor is it’s the rarest voice point in school choirs,” he said. “I thought I’d do pretty well auditioning. I’m not the best sight-singer because I never played an instrument, which helps. But I got good at developing my ear and being able to repeat melodies.”
He learned he’d made All-State from his friends at school when they congratulated him. “I’ve never been part of an overnight event, rooming with friends,” he said. “And I’m excited about doing really cool music. This year’s selections aren’t what you’d normally expect a choir to sing. The spiritual piece isn’t an older, liturgical piece — it’s ‘I Am the Great Sun,’ which is very modern and has dissonant sounds. And a lot of the pieces have clapping and stomping, using our bodies to make the percussion.”
Also a theater student, Ewalt likes singing Broadway songs best and is considering an eventual career in musical theater.
McGinty, a senior, sings bass with Symphonic Choir and Madrigals. “I enjoy when bass lines have really large leaps from one note to another,” he said. “Renaissance pieces tend to do that and it’s great fun; I also like singing in foreign languages.”
It was his first time auditioning for All-State, but he made Honor Choir earlier in the school year. “It was an awesome experience and Hailey was in it, too,” said McGinty. “So I thought I’d probably make All-State. The All-District performance we all would have been in this year got cancelled, due to snow, so this will make up for it.”
Happy to make All-State, he’s looking forward to traveling and performing in a big choir. “It’s going to be amazing,” he said. “Having a career in music is my dream. Centreville has a great choral program and I’ve enjoyed singing in it, and Mrs. Babcock is a fantastic director. She encourages us to work together and get to know each other. So we think about each other as a family — and that’s really how it is.”
Singing bass with Symphonic Choir is Knutti, a junior who also sings in an alternative rock and reggae band. “I felt great about my audition after I did it,” he said. “I practiced the piece for a long time, so I was happy with what I did.” Now, he’s looking forward to hanging out with his friends McGinty and Ewalt in Harrisonburg and “singing music with people from all over the state.”
Knutti’s sung with his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, since he was a young boy. And at Centreville, he said, “Mrs. Babcock helped us learn the music and get over our nerves by singing in front of the class. The program also helped me learn sight-singing better.”
After graduation from high school, he plans to serve a two-year mission for his church and will then go to college. His advice to other, aspiring vocalists is to “keep trying and don’t be embarrassed about singing.”