M State singers earn chance to perform with the best

Growing up in Salt Lake City, Mykey Watchorn often joked that one day he’d sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

At the end of February, the Minnesota State Community and Technical College student can make the claim with a straight face.

Watchorn is one of eight members of M State’s Concert Choir who will perform at the national convention of the American Choral Directors Association on Feb. 24-28 in Salt Lake City.

“When I was growing up, we all had dreams of singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” said Watchorn, who graduated from Frazee High School and plans to continue his studies in music or drama after earning his Associate of Fine Arts from M State. “Now I’ll actually get to go do it.”

The group also will perform at Fergus Area College Foundation’s Bigwood Lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, at Legacy Hall on the Fergus Falls campus. The Lecture, which is free and open to the public, will feature Bemidji State University President Emeritus Jim Bensen in a presentation entitled “Make the Future Your Friend.”

The M State choral students were accepted for the 200-student college choir, one of five choirs at the convention. A total of 3,300 students nationwide sent audition recordings last September. Each had to perform Beethoven’s “Hallelujah,” from Christ on the Mount of Olives.

The process of making the recordings, students and instructors said, was an education in and of itself.

Following a series of rehearsals led by instructor Teresa Ashworth, M State music instructor David Stoddard did the initial setup for recording. The group of students took over from there, recording each other, several times, to ensure they caught their best performances.

“We helped each other a lot with the quality of sound and really worked together as a team,” said Ashley Forsman, a Murdock native who will be majoring in music at Southwest Minnesota State University following graduation with her AFA from M State.

In November, when Ashworth heard one by one that eight students were accepted, she said she was delighted but not surprised.

“We had very talented young people who took it very seriously. They recorded it over and over again to get it right,” she said. “What happened among the students was great. They learned so much. It was a wonderful melding of talent.”

The actual convention, Ashworth said, will be no less intense.

Led by conductor Dr. Christian Grases of the University of Southern California’s School of Music, students must pass a music screening before being allowed to sing at the convention. Those who don’t pass can still participate in the convention but will not sing.

“The College Honor Choir section leaders are rigorous in their assessment of each student knowing his or her music before arriving at the conference,” Ashworth said.

The tryouts will be followed by a series of sessions and performances, with the theme of Latin American music. “This choir is an immersion into music of the Latin American culture and the learning of new music,” Ashworth said.

The finale, of course, will be the concert combining all five student choirs and the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

“The visibility for our choir is just tremendous,” Ashworth said. “The fact that we have this many singers (selected for the National College Honors Choir) speaks highly of the students in our program.”

Also representing M State in Salt Lake City are Zack Buntrock of Casselton, N.D., Jacob Haugen of Henning, Miranda Hubert of Fergus Falls, Jackie Imsande of New York Mills, Eric Ronning of Parkers Prairie and Jacob Seeman of St. Cloud.

This is the first trip of its kind for M State choral students since 2009, and Ashworth said she wants to thank M State administrators Gary Henrickson and Carrie Brimhall for providing the support and financial backing to make the trip possible. It should also be noted that six of the eight students attending are also recipients of Fergus Area College Scholarships.

“We really appreciate what the college has done,” Ashworth said. “They have been 100 percent supportive.”

For Forsman, the trip is an opportunity to prove that students from small towns and small colleges can sing with the best.

“It’s been great to say that we made it,” Forsman said. “Now I want to show that we can do it.”

Editor’s note: In addition to a performance by the students who are traveling to  Salt Lake City, the M State Chamber Chorale will perform Mozart’s “Veni Sancte Spiritus” with the Fergus Falls High School Chamber Orchestra at the Bigwood Lecture. The event is free and open to the public.

Posted in News on February 23, 2015 at 11:28 am