Student attends honors choir


LUSK – Fifty-six students, six educators, one adjudicator and a lot of laughs. This is what you get when the North Platte District Eighth Grade Honors choir met on Oct. 25 in Guernsey. Phil Newland was the guest director for the choir. He is originally from Nebraska and now teaches at Columbine High School in Colorado by way of graduating from the University of Wyoming and teaching in Wyoming. A long time friend of Matt Hebbert, Vocal Music instructor for Guernsey-Sunrise, Newland is a dynamic and uplifting director who uses humor, focus and his impressive musical presence to lead a group of students who have never met before to come together and present a concert.

Students had been rehearsing at their respective schools separately for two or three weeks and arrived with the material mostly learned. It was pulling them together both stylistically and musically that presented the challenge. Many of the students sing with choir programs significantly smaller than the group that assembled that day. For some it was their first time singing with a section of more than one or two students. 

Michael Daniels, a student at the Lusk Middle School was nominated and selected to attend the Honors Choir. Daniels is a tenor/alto with the vocal program in Lusk and traveled to participate for the day. 

He largely learned the musical selections between Oct. 19 and Oct. 25 taking most of his weekend to rehearse and memorize the pieces. Then, at 6:45 a.m. on Monday morning he traveled to Guernsey to begin rehearsals at 8:30 a.m. The choir rehearsed for the first three hours with only one small break. Newland emphasized tone quality, breathing support and energy as he began to bring many voices into one sound.

Following a 45-minute lunch, the group reassembled for another two hours of rehearsal before performing for a group of students, teachers and parents at 2:30 p.m.  The group sang five diverse songs including classical pieces, a French-Canadian piece partially in French, an African anthem and an uplifting contemporary called Sing§. 

Daniels stated that the experience was both intimidating and interesting and he learned a lot. After the performance he was commended for both his pitch accuracy and his knowledge of the pieces. Newland stated that Daniels was one of the only male singers to know most of his part.

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