Thanks to a strong showing at the State Music Festival March 30 in West Plains, a whopping 23 Houston High School choir members will sing at the state Small Enemble and Solo Festival April 28 in Columbia. Tiger qualifiers include, front row, from left, Brandi Robbins, Reanna Craig, Emilee Reese, Kathy Powell, Liz Harris, Ashley Topping, Mariah Clifton; middle row, Katie Robertson, Kaylea Preheim, Nathan Yaeger, Taylor Bryson, Elisa Williamson, Adriana Pena; back row, Haley Kelley, Caiti Ross, Jacob Kelley, Daniel Spurlin, Bailey Barton, Dakota Hugenot, Dusti Turner. Not shown: Kelli Albrecht, Caroline Dunn, and Racheal Forsythe.

A sign on the wall inside the Houston High School choir room says, “Sing like you mean it.”

Apparently, many of choir director Beth Williamson’s students have taken that message to heart, because more of them have qualified to sing at the state level this year than in any school year since Williamson began leading choir at Houston seven years ago.

When students, teachers, family and friends gather for the State Ensemble and Solo Festival April 28 in Columbia, 23 Tigers will be among the participating singers, topping the previous high of 20 from a few years ago.

“I think it’s due to a combination of things,” Williamson said. “We have excellent senior leadership, a talented freshman group and very talented sophomores and juniors. It’s a really good mix, but that leadership from the seniors has been very important.”

Houston’s qualifiers (which includes all three of the choir’s seniors, along with eight juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen) earned berths at state during the annual State Music Festival, March 29 and 30 at West Plains. During state-level large choirs competition on day one, the Tigers’ Concert Choir was awarded a “1” rating (the highest possible, on a scale of 1-to-5), while the Women’s Choir earned a 2. Both groups were required to perform two contrasting works and to demonstrate skills by sight-reading.

The Concert Choir’s superior rating was a fitting follow-up to its conference championship performance last November in the South Central Association competition at Willow Springs. The Women’s Choir took third in the SCA.

During district-level Small Ensemble and Solo competition on day two of the event, Houston singers earned 62 individual medals, 37 of which were of the 1-rating variety. Three Tigers qualified for State in three different events, including junior Bailey Barton (Girls Double Quartet, Mixed Double Quartet and Girls Vocal Solo), freshman Kathy Powell (Girls Double Quartet, Girls SSA Ensemble and Girls Vocal Solo) and freshman Elisa Williamson (Girls Double Quartet, Mixed Double Quartet and Piano Solo). Also among the 23 Tigers who will sing in Columbia is senior Jacob Kelly, who will be making his fifth trip to the festival. Kelly qualified first as a seventh-grader, and did so again in all four years of high school.

Williamson said that excelling in small ensemble performances requires all members of a given team to be “on” at the same time.

“If even one person messes up or doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing, the whole group is affected,” she said. “Everybody has to do well to make it to state.”

While large choir is part of school curriculum and practicing is done in a class setting during school hours, small ensemble and solo are discretionary and require participants to practice after school. Nonetheless, all but four students who are in the large group class participate in small ensemble and solo, and those four are involved in spring sports.

“All of the kids volunteered to do this,” Williamson said. “They know it takes a lot of time, but they believe it’s worth it. They want to do it.”

Williamson said students who get involved in performing arts benefit in many ways that people aren’t aware of.

“A lot of people don’t know that there are a lot of scholarships for musicians, just like athletes,” she said. “And a lot of colleges and employers look on applications to see if a student has been involved in arts.”

Two HHS students earned music scholarships at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, and one more has this year. Other Houston graduates have traveled with their college choirs to Russia and other far-off locations.

“The bottom line is, music can help kids outside of high school,” Williamson said.

With as much success as Houston’s choir members have enjoyed already this school year, Williamson figures there’s no reason not to expect a good showing in Columbia.

“You never know,” she said, “but I think they’ll do very well. These kids I have are very busy kids –– they’re in all the academic competitions and this time of year gets pretty crazy. But they all work very hard at this and they enjoy what they’re doing.”

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