MFL MarMac vocal ensembles earn ‘outstanding performances’ at solo/ensemble

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Two MFL MarMac vocal ensembles earned perfect scores and Outstanding Performances for their renditions of the songs “Crucified” and “When I Think of You” at solo/ensemble contest. Among the students involved were (front, left to right) Abby Schellhorn, Ruby Koeller, Riley Whitney, Rose Grau, Hailee Corlett, Emme Schroeder; (back) Jonah Wille, Kaden Stocker, Ben Miene, Jaxton Schroeder and Aedan Whitney. Not pictured are Anna Stoddard, Kale Miene, Austin Schlee, Franci Mezera, JJ Lynd and Kaylee Bachman. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Out of 34 band and vocal performances at this year’s solo/ensemble contests, MFL MarMac high school music students received 26 Division I ratings, including perfect scores and two Outstanding Performances for the ensemble renditions of the songs “Crucified” and “When I Think of You.”


Although the district has received Outstanding Performances, or OPs, before, earning two in one year is a rare feat.


“Each center can give out OPs, and there are four centers. It’s crazy to think we got two of the four,” said junior Abby Schellhorn.


“There’s only a few of us who have ever experienced solo/ensemble,” added senior Riley Whitney. “The sophomores missed out on it because of COVID, and the freshmen, obviously this is their first opportunity. So it’s even more impressive we were able to do the work we did.”


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, solo/ensemble was not held in person this year. Instead, performances were recorded and later judged. MFL MarMac recorded its performances at two separate recitals, which were held in the auditorium and attended by students’ family members.


Choral director Jaydeane Berns said the recital would have normally been held a week before contest, giving students time to make adjustments. 


“So we really pushed hard to make things as perfect as possible by the time we recorded,” she said. “I gave us 10 minutes for each individual or group, and if we needed to re-record something, we would do that. That was a little added plus of being able to record versus being live with the judge.”


While the younger students found the recitals nerve wracking, the juniors and seniors appreciated the opportunity.


“It was nice to have the crowd. Even for state show choir, we didn’t have anyone in the auditorium, so it didn’t feel like you were competing for something,” said senior Ben Miene. “With the recital, you feel like you’re performing and not just recording a song.”


The recording aspect wasn’t the only solo/ensemble change this year. There was no time requirement, and students didn’t have to memorize their music. Ensembles could also be directed. 


The changes were met with mixed reviews. While convenient, Riley Whitney said it took the “solo/ensemble feel” out of the performances. Junior Jaxton Schroeder added that having a director helped with cut-offs and coming in at the right time, but also made it less personal between the students. 


“You can be more accurate with your timing, but the communication with parts can make it a little more difficult,” Schroeder said, “so you really have to watch for balance and blending within your own section.”


“I felt the same way using music,” noted Berns. “You lose that communication aspect.”


How the singers work together is an important detail when forming an ensemble. Berns looks for voices that blend well and have the ability to hold their own parts. 


“Singing in an ensemble, there’s a lot of teamwork that’s needed. It’s important everyone listens for balance, blend, dynamics,” shared senior Rose Grau.


Berns also seeks a range of ages.


“I look for the older kids with more experience to somewhat teach the younger ones how to perform, how to create that ensemble,” she explained. “Then you’re looking at the younger kids who are more musical, who have that blend.”


Both the “Crucified” and “When I Think of You” OP ensembles included the maximum 12 people, with three singers on each part. A group that size creates a lot of energy, said Jaxton Schroeder.


“With 12 people, you can all feed off each other’s energy, versus a solo where you have to create your own,” he remarked.


The “Crucified” ensemble featured seniors Rose Grau, Riley Whitney, Anna Stoddard, Ben Miene, Kale Miene and JJ Lynd; juniors Abby Schellhorn, Jaxton Schroeder and Kaylee Bachman; and sophomores Jonah Wille, Austin Schlee and Emme Schroeder.


The song is a program favorite, having been performed by a group almost every year, said Berns.


“A reason we were so successful with this song is there are some people in this group who love that song and sing it all the time,” stated Riley Whitney. “It’s easier to get into a song and do well if you’re excited about it.”


As the title implies, “Crucified” is religious, telling the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and its effect on humanity. While the story line is key, the chords and harmonies set the song apart, said Jaxton Schroeder.


“It’s just so epic,” he remarked.


“One word to describe it is powerful,” added Grau.


“When I Think of You” was a piece some MFL MarMac students sang at UIC Vocal Festival. They later asked Berns if they could sing it in a small ensemble.


Among the group members were seniors Rose Grau, Anna Stoddard, Riley Whitney, Ben Miene and Kale Miene; juniors Jaxton Schroeder and Kaden Stocker; sophomores Austin Schlee, Hailee Corlett and Franci Mezera; and freshmen Aedan Whitney and Ruby Koeller.


Berns described “When I Think of You” as a great song with meaningful text, which is a combination of two different poems by Sara Teasdale.


“It’s just about how different things remind you of people or important events. Every time you listen to it, you might think of something different. It just touches your heart,” Riley Whitney said. “For me, this is probably the last time I’m going to sing this song. And when I was singing it, I was thinking of my friends and how we’re all doing it together one more time.”


Corlett said it actually made the ensemble cry.


“We’re already such a family. So singing that together brings out so many memories,” she shared.


“It’s an easy song to have an emotional bond with other people in the group. It didn’t feel uncomfortable expressing that emotion,” added Ben Miene. “People don’t always understand our bond with one another. Yes, you’re going to have bonds on the football team and basketball team, but this you can’t compare.”


“In sports, you have a physical bond. This is an emotional bond,” explained Aedan Whitney. “All the people in the group are together all the time, and we talk with each other and know how one another acts. We know how to connect.”


According to Jonah Wille, receiving not just one, but two, OPs shows the tremendous amount of work MFL MarMac music students put into those songs, as well as the program as a whole.


The students also credited accompanist Karen Suddendorf and Berns for their efforts.


“As a director, I try to keep learning and looking for techniques to help them,” Berns said. “Karen has also put a lot of time in, and we talk and collaborate.”


“She’s very passionate,” stated Corlett.


“She’s passionate because she knows the potential that can come out of us,” said Ben Miene.


Over four years, Riley Whitney has seen that potential realized, including the school’s first one at state show choir and several OPs.


“The bar is up here,” she said, raising her hand above her head.


To Berns, this outlook is one of the reasons MFL MarMac has done well at solo and ensemble contest. 


“We’ve had some success, and they’ve passed it on and taken pride in our accomplishments. They want the program to continue to do well,” she said.

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