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All together now - Second Annual Middle School Choir Festival

Nick Salmans had plenty of advice for the hundreds of student performers who took the stage in the Cherokee Trail High School auditorium on Oct. 22.

As the young singers from Falcon Creek, Laredo, Prairie, Horizon, Liberty, Campus, Fox Ridge, West and Thunder Ridge middle schools took turns as groups performing complex and demanding pieces of music, Salmans responded with counsel culled from decades spent teaching in the Cherry Creek School District. Salmans, who taught choir at Cherry Creek and Smoky Hill high schools for a combined stint of more than 20 years before retiring, offered tips about tone, arrangement and simple stage presence.

After years away from the classroom, it seemed Salmans hadn't lost his passion for teaching music.

"Getting up in front of the students sparks all of things that I did for many, many years," Salmans said. "It's wonderful to be able to come in and work with kids who are very disciplined … It's wonderful to see that there are such excellent performing groups at the middle school level."

Salmans joined current CCSD students and choir teachers at Cherokee Trail as part of the Cherry Creek School District's Second Annual Middle School Choir Festival, a showcase of performances and onstage clinics. Organized and hosted by Laredo Middle School choir teacher Clare Ingolia and Fox Ridge Middle School choir teacher Shannon Schell, the daylong event served as a simultaneous performance venue and teaching platform for young vocal musicians from across the district.

“Choir makes me less stressed, it’s really enjoyable, I meet a lot of friends and it helps me do other musical things, like orchestra,” said Annalise Gray, a 14-year-old choir student and eighth-grader from Laredo.


Choir groups from individual schools performed solo pieces, and they also had the chance to join their peers from other schools for a "mass choir" piece featuring approximately 500 voices.

"We wanted to get our kids together and show the talent that our district has to offer in terms of vocal music," Schell said. "The students get to hear from other teachers. We all write comments for each choir and let them know what we liked about what they did and what they needed to do better so that they can grow."

The process also included bringing in Salmans for individualized work with choirs from each school. His visit wasn't at all accidental. Ingolia, a graduate of Smoky Hill High School, took choir classes from Salmans when he was still teaching. She was quick to explain that his classes offered the inspiration and direction for her future career.


"He's the reason that I'm in my current job," Ingolia said. "I knew I wanted to be a teacher for a long time, but when I had him as a choir teacher in high school, that really sealed the deal for me. He's the reason I wanted to become a choir teacher. It's really meaningful that he's here; I just think he's so brilliant."

Salmans' presence was just as meaningful for the performers. After working with choir groups for less than 15 minutes, it was easy to hear the impact on their collective sound. Gospel tunes turned more soulful, and go-to choir standards gained a deeper level of meaning and impact.

"He's awesome. He's an amazing figure," said Madison Joseph, an eighth-grader from Laredo. "It's always cool to hear feedback and learn about what we can do."

The structure of the day was designed to encourage students, Ingolia said. Rather than build a choir festival based on competition, the organizers wanted to create an environment where students could thrive through shared experiences. Absent were formal scores and competitions; instead, the hundreds of young singers benefited from sharing time with students and teachers who held similar interests.

"We didn't want it to be a competitive environment. We wanted it to be very supportive for our kids," Ingolia said. "To work with different directors and to see what goes on at middle schools, for my students, it lights a fire … It really motivates them to do well."

The structure also motivated students to come out of their shells. Young singers met their peers from other schools, they swapped new pieces of music and gained insights about the choir scene across the district. For many, the event only emphasized what they'd first found to love about singing in a choir.

"Choir makes me less stressed, it's really enjoyable, I meet a lot of friends and it helps me do other musical things, like orchestra," said Annalise Gray, a 14-year-old choir student and eighth-grader from Laredo. "It's really cool to see what our choir is like compared to what other schools' choirs are like and have a whole bunch of people who love music join in one place and learn about the craft."

Posted 11/3/2015 9:59 AM
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