B-UHS student performs with All-National Honors Mixed Choir

TENNERTON — A Buckhannon-Upshur High School senior’s voice joined with 281 students from across America in the All-National Honors Mixed Choir in Orlando, Fla. recently.

Sean Crites is one of three West Virginia students who were selected after an audition process for the 2017 choir as part of the National Association for Music Education. The two other West Virginians are from neighboring Lewis County.

It was the experience of one of those students, Joseph Alfred-Rubio, that led Crites to audition in 2017.

“Last year, one of my friends from Lewis County auditioned, went through the process and went to All-National Choir which was in Texas,” Crites said. “After talking to him about it, I decided it was something I would want to try.”

Working with his B-UHS choir instructor Jeremiah Smallridge, Crites sent an audition tape for a required song— “Sing We at Pleasure,” a Renaissance period piece by Thomas Weelkes.

“We also submitted a supplementary excerpt from another choral arrangement, “Entreat Me Not” by Dan Forrest just as a boost in the application process,” he said.

“From there, we just had to wait as they reviewed the applications,” he said. “Around mid-July, we heard back that I was accepted.”

Not only was Crites selected, but his friend – Alfred-Rubio, and another LCHS student, Ryan Post-Overton, would also be making the trip to Walt Disney World the weekend following Thanksgiving.

“Once we were there, we had seven-hour rehearsals — three-hour rehearsals, lunch and then a four-hour rehearsal each day,” Crites said.

Crites sings Tenor II and has been a member of the All-State Choir and various other state ensembles but found himself in rehearsal with elite high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from 49 different states.

“As we started to sing, you could hear the talent in the room,” he said. “It was nice to see and hear the different tone and techniques of people from across the nation and not just within the state. My roommate was from Georgia and he had gone all three years to the national convention and he was very good.”

“There was one point where we could audition for solos,” he said. “Everyone was so used to being a leader in their ensembles that so many people wanted to audition. Hearing the soloists as soloists and not choristers also let you listen to different timbres of people’s voices and just appreciate the raw talent in the room.”

Dr. Z. Randall Stroope, director of choral/vocal studies at Oklahoma State University and a well-known conductor and composer, conducted the All-National Honors Mixed Choir. Stroope conducts at Carnegie Hall at Chicago Orchestra Hall, is a recurring teacher/composer with the Italian National Choral Federation and has directed 41 all-state choirs, according to information on www.nafme.org.

“The conductor was really good in that he knew we were all at a higher level than we were used to so he pushed us,” Crites said.  “He made rehearsal time for rehearsal so we could get the things we needed to get done at rehearsal. Then, we had had the communication aspect and the friendship and bonding after the fact so we would go to the parks at 6 p.m. and stay until the parks closed.”

The repertoire for the concert included two pieces composed by Stroope “I Am Not Yours” and “Consecrate the Place and Day,” “Gloria” excerpted from a Mozart mass, a spiritual “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” and folk song “No Time.” Two other works, “From Heaven Distilled a Clemency” and a Macedonia folk song called “Sto mi e milo,” were also performed.

“In the rehearsal the day of the concert we sang, ‘I Am Not Yours,’ a piece Dr. Stroope had composed,” Crites said. “There was just a moment where we all connected when we were singing. You looked around and you would see tears in people’s eyes. When we finished, the instructors who were sitting in the room started to clap. They had been hearing us rehearse all day but something was different about that one time. It’s something I definitely will remember.

“We had a three-hour rehearsal the day of the concert. We changed spaces so that was interesting in that part of singing in a different space than you are rehearsing is you have to find the resonance of the room. After we all got on the stage, we spent time singing into different corners of the room to see where we needed to focus our sound to get the best quality.”

The All-National Choir’s performance in the Coronado Springs ballroom brought together all the hard work of the previous few days.

“For the actual performance, we knew it was our last time to sing together,” Crites said.  “The thing about ensembles like this — even if most of the people return — you will never have that same sound again. It was the only time we would ever be there and sound the way that we sounded, so we just embraced that and then sang out to the best of our abilities. I think the concert went pretty well.”

Crites returned to Buckhannon with more tips for vocal performance.

“The experience itself and just meeting new people and the networking that can be done at concerts like this is immeasurable,” he said. “The knowledge I gained about my voice and how I can apply it here and help other members of the choir here and myself is something I cherish from that experience.

“I love to travel, so just going to Disney World – even though we went with the band last year was very fun,” Crites said. “Seeing people from different backgrounds and the different nuances in people from the north and the south…you don’t always appreciate when you are surrounded by everyone with a similar demographic.”

Crites also noted how all the choir members were bound together through their shared passion and love for music.

“There is a connectivity of music in general,” he said. “Even though we have these different backgrounds, we are able to connect under the music and under the passion for singing.”

Smallridge said, "I am extremely proud of Sean. He is a very talented young man but also one of the hardest workers I know. We are very lucky to have him as a student at B-UHS as he shines both on stage and in the classroom."

Crites said he will make music part of his college experience but it is not his intended major.

“I want to stay in a collegiate ensemble or choir of some sort,” he said. “Singing is such a big part of my life that I don’t want to give it up, but I know that it’s not what I want to pursue as a career.”

He is exploring psychology and neuroscience as two career possibilities but added that could change.

Crites said he would encourage other students to pursue the All-National Choir.

“I highly recommend it to anyone to audition,” he said. “Hearing ‘all-national choir’ is a bit foreboding but go for it. You don’t know if you will get it or not but you have to take risks in order to get the results. If you have an opportunity like this, at least try because the worst thing that can happen is they tell you no.”

The dates for the 2018 All-National Honor Ensembles which include choir, jazz band, concert band, symphony orchestra and a new guitar ensemble will be Nov. 25-28 in Orlando, Fla.

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