Chandra Harmon is singing a tune of praise after an amazing month of April by the choir programs at Carroll County High School and Carroll County Intermediate School.
During the April 25-27 weekend, three CCHS students represented the school at the All-Virginia Chorus Concert at Hanover High School in Mechanicsville. Seniors Anthony Utt and Janelle Lanning joined junior Brandon Lineback in receiving the honor, while junior Paxton Berrier was selected as an alternate. The three All-Virginia honors were the most for the high school’s chorus program since 1992.
Earlier in the month, from April 11-13 in Williamsburg, the chorus program from both schools competed in a national competition. A total of 49 students from the two schools competed, with the intermediate group of 8th and 9th grade students from CCIS receiving the highest honor, a gold rating. The high school group from CCHS missed a gold rating by just a couple of points, earning second place for a silver rating.
“We have worked really hard. Part of it was just trying to get the numbers up and get students involved,” said Harmon of a choir program that has tripled in size since she took over two years ago. “We are getting a lot more male participation. We have 16 guys from 8th to 12th grades. When I started we had about five. And there’s been a lot of recruitment. I will talk to kids, their friends will come by and sit in during their lunch and sing with us. But it’s just a fun group of kids to be around and they have worked so hard to achieve these honors.”
To earn All-Virginia honors, students have to be able to sight read music, which means they have to get a starting pitch and perform what they see on the page without it being taught to them. That makes up 20 percent of the audition. The rest is based on the student being able to learn a classical piece of solo music, which they must then perform for a panel of judges, who rate students on a total of 200 points. With three All-Virginia selections, Carroll placed the second-highest number of students on the list out of 45 schools in the district.
Harmon attributes hard work on the part of the students to the success of the high school’s choir program in the All-Virginia auditions. She said they will stay after school and work on sight reading and singing. It’s also a big part of what the students work on in class.
“Before, the students were coming in not able to read music, then not being able to read music without hearing it. We spend 15 to 20 minutes per class working on sight reading with the computer and it grades them on their sight reading,” Harmon said. “Then if they are planning on auditioning for something like this, I spend time with them after school working on sight reading, and then I work with them on their solo after school.”
Harmon will record the students’ solo pieces and then critique them on it, telling them things they need to improve. She will also have her own panel of judges come in to evaluate the students before they go to auditions, preparing them even more for the real thing.
“They put a lot of hard work into it,” she said. “They probably prepare at least two months ahead of time before they go to these auditions.”
Lineback, who placed first in bass at All-Virginia, said it was “astounding” to earn the honor. His colleagues agreed with the assessment, while Utt and Lanning narrowly missed making Honors Choir, which is even one step above All-Virginia.
“We got to experience what it was like to be in the top choir. We didn’t quite make it, but we got to be in the state choir and that was just really something,” Utt said. “I just love music personally, and I know all these guys do, too.”
All students auditioning for All-Virginia had to make a huge sacrifice to do so – they had to be willing to give up going to the Prom, which was held on the same day. Lanning, who also earned All-Virginia honors last year as a junior, had to give up both her Junior and Senior Proms.
“If they want to go to Prom, I don’t let them audition. But these students all said they wanted to go to All-Virginia,” Harmon said. “Janelle chose to do that two years in a row.”
But Lanning said it was a sacrifice that was well worth it. She said many people have questioned her about missing the Prom both years, but All-Virginia was just something she could not pass up.
“I had a really good reason to not go because I had received such an honor and people understood that. Friday night when all my classmates were walking into the door (at Prom), I was standing on stage singing, and that is my happy place,” Lanning said. “That is where I needed to be and where I wanted to be. And even the hour when everyone is just starting to finish up getting ready, I had such a peace in my heart listening to the middle school choir. It was a feeling that I have never really had before. I had such a happy heart that night.”
And the bronchitis all three got while singing at All-Virginia “was completely worth it,” Utt added. Even though Berrier didn’t get to accompany the other three to Mechanicsville, she said the experience of being an alternate is something she will never forget, and something that will motivate her next year.
“It shows me how far I’ve come. When I did my first year of all-districts in ninth grade, I was amazed I could even get to try out. And now I was an alternate for All-Virginia and I might make it for next year,” Berrier said. “It shows me that all the hard work I put into it, I can actually see it paying off for me.”
Berrier said Harmon is an outstanding teacher. Not only does she believe in each student, she always is willing to give up her time to work with students when they need help with something, Berrier said.
“Without Mrs. Harmon, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That is emotionally, mentally and musically,” Lanning said. “Mrs. Harmon is so willing to practice any day.”
And now she is planning to expand local offerings even more as Carroll County will be hosting a Twin County Choir for the first time in October along with students from Grayson County and Galax.
“We’re trying to start a lot of opportunities for the students to work with other students and directors because if they hear from other directors, they get other ideas and learn more,” Harmon said. “We are trying to get them as many opportunities to learn as possible.”