Pinecrest Choral Program Heads to Chicago
Reality is setting in for Alease Jeffries.
A senior member of the Pinecrest High School choral program, Jeffries is preparing for one final competition -- the National Choral Festival of Gold in Chicago, April 11-15.
Jeffries and 53 of her fellow choir members will compete in the festival for the third straight year. Jeffries, who won't pursue a career in music, views Chicago's competition as a final chance to shine.
"I'm starting to feel it," says Jeffries, "Gosh, this is it for me. It's like the final countdown. I know before our final performance I am going to cry. I am going to miss this so much."
Jeffries, like so many other seniors in the choral program, credits her teacher, James Brown, for pushing her and the other choir members to reach beyond what anyone thought possible four years ago.
"I have a lot of gratitude for Mr. Brown," she says. "He's done so much for us."
For fellow senior Matthew Hazzard, it is obvious that everyone is raising the performance level as the Chicago trip nears.
"Now that the event is coming up, everyone is giving their all," Hazzard says. "It's really showing."
He called the preparation "grueling" but at the same time "rewarding."
"Every day when you hear the choir growing and improving it is incredibly satisfying," he says.
Last year during the Festival of Gold, Pinecrest's Sotto Voce earned 11th place out of 35, and the Chamber Ensemble placed fourth.
The students and their instructor, are hoping for an improvement, but say the ultimate success is measured by their performance, not their place.
"Our group knows our potential," says senior Michelle Porter. "If we reach it, whether we come in last or first, if we have done our best we will be satisfied, no matter if it (our finish) is one, two or even three."
Brown has been the director of the school's choral program since 2005. In 2005 Brown took his Sotto Voce and Chamber Ensemble to Washington, D.C., to compete in a national choral festival. The students earned a superior rating and certificates of excellence. Both groups were chosen to compete in the National Choral Festival of Gold in New York City the following year. Competing against 19 schools, the Sotto Voce finished third and the Chamber Ensemble fourth.
They are the only group from North Carolina participating in the National Choral Festival of Gold.
Brown calls his seniors a special group, and says that his expectations for all the students in the program have increased each year.
"We are competing against 25 choirs in Chicago, and this is definitely the hardest music we have ever done," Brown says. "Some college choruses won't even go to the level that I am demanding of these kids."
And the students have responded.
"We are busting our butts every day," says Brittany Cullifer. "This is the last time I will sing with these people. Personally I will be nervous, but I am always nervous, but I know we are really well prepared."
Brown says his goal is to push his students to reach their potential and beyond, while exposing them to new experiences.
"Some students have never flown before," Brown says. "Some have never performed in a church before. There is always a first time for everyone for certain things. I want self-motivation to take over after having experiences like this. I want my students to understand what it is to give all their effort and achieve something."
The trips have made being part of the choir a fulfilling experience.
"It makes being in the choir more meaningful," says Caroline Gallagher. "Getting to experience this made it easy to understand what a great deal you have to do and how hard you have to work."
Traveling to such a competition with more than 50 students is a strain financially. Brown credits the work of his choral boosters for helping raise the money and to provide needed support.
Two people he singled out were Susan Bonville and Michelle Nelson, calling them pillars and individuals who help keep him calm, collected and focused.
Prior to the Chicago trip, both choral groups will perform a free concert at 7 p.m. April 7 at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church.
"I definitely think we set the standard for choirs," says Hazzard when asked why someone should come to the free concert. "If you've never seen a choir before, why not see the best; see something that really shines."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at tembrey@ thepilot.com.
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