As far as the Michigan School Vocal Music Association (MSVMA) is concerned, Rockford may just be the top choir program in the State. This year, Rockford High School had three choirs selected as part of the top-14 choirs in Michigan. Each year MSVMA selects the top choirs to perform at a special gala recital as part of the Michigan Youth Arts Festival (MYAF). Only one other school in Michigan had more than one choir selected. This year’s recital is scheduled for Friday, May 14.
Each of the RHS Choir Directors had an ensemble selected: David Duiven’s Chamber Singers, a mixed ensemble made up of all upperclassmen; Mandy Mikita Scott’s Women’s Chorus, an all-sophomore choir accompanied by Peggy Odren; and the extracurricular men’s ensemble, the Rockford Aces, directed by Jed Scott.
As Mr. Duiven put it, “this is really the state championship for choirs. Having one choir selected among this group is a great honor. Having three selected is unprecedented!” Indeed, the last time a Rockford choir was selected was in 1993, though last year one choir was nominated. Said Mrs. Scott, “there are so many fine choirs across the State that many of the very best schools don’t even have one choir selected.”
The selection is the culmination of a statewide multi-step process that began in January with District Solo & Ensemble Festival. Some 400+ choirs performed at 16 district locations; the highest rated were permitted to continue to State Solo & Ensemble in April. At the State level, they performed two classical pieces and were asked to sight-read a piece to demonstrate their musical skills. Of the 50 ensembles performing at each of the four state sites, six were nominated for MYAF performance. A four-judge panel made up of choral experts then listened “blind” to the 24 nominated recordings and selected the 14 that would perform. According to Ginny Kerwin, Executive Director of MSVMA, “The decisions by the listening panel were difficult because of the high quality of choral artistry displayed by all of the finalists.”
The choirs selected for inclusion are typically the top curricular ensembles at each high school represented, like Rockford’s Chamber Singers. The other two choirs from RHS are less typical. As Mrs. Scott puts it, “to have an all-sophomore ensemble [Women’s Chorus] picked is a lot like a JV team making it to the state football championships!” The Rockford Aces rehearse just one evening per week, far less than other ensembles. “And,” says Mr. Scott, “we spend far more time on pop, jazz, and doo-wop than most top-classical choirs in the State!”
The three choirs will perform as part of a weekend-long celebration of Michigan high school artists in all disciplines. Says Mrs. Scott “Michigan is the only state with anything like MYAF. They gather 1,000 of the best singers, instrumentalists, painters, actors, film directors, sculptors, and so on in Kalamazoo to share their art with each other. It’s a remarkable testament to the talent of our youth and to the value of arts education in Michigan.” Mrs. Scott came to Rockford in 2008 from Grosse Pointe, where she had choirs selected for MYAF in 2004 and 2005.
According to Duiven, “We’ve got a thriving choir program in Rockford and the Scotts have really added to that in the last two years.” There are almost 300 members of the Rockford High School Choirs. You can next hear members of the RHS Choirs at their Dessert Cabaret celebrating the music of George Gershwin on May 21 and 22 or at the annual Farewell/Awards Concert on May 26 (both at RHS Auditorium).