Choir prospers on impressive scale Student singers: Even the judges at a national music competition have been vocal in their praise for Chesapeake Senior High School's choral program.

April 30, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

If you walk down the halls of Chesapeake Senior High School, you can hear strains of Hebrew and Norwegian mixing with the clatter of lunch trays and the pounding of typewriters.

The international dialects aren't coming from foreign language laboratories, however, but from the choral music room, where Karen Rhodes and 50 members of the school's show choir practice every day, singing "Erev Shel Shoshanim" and "Pal Pa Haugen."

The choir, one of five in the school's choral music program, is preparing the Israeli and Norwegian folk tales for the county choir festival today. All five Chesapeake choirs enter the festival with impressive credentials, having received first place or grand champion awards at Fiesta-val, a national music competition in Atlanta two weeks ago.

"There was a lot of good competition down there," recalled Sarah Jester, a senior soprano. "After we saw the competition, we were a little intimidated."

"The kids were phenomenal," said Ms. Rhodes, who has been the director of the school's choral program for six years.

The show choir and jazz choir were crowned grand champions in their categories with superior ratings. The men's chorus was named grand champion with an excellent rating.

The treble choir and mixed chorus both garnered first-place honors with excellent ratings.

The awards didn't come easily though. All of the choirs practiced for at least 1 1/2 hours every week day for a month before the festival. The jazz and show groups even spent nights rehearsing their music.

The dedication starts with the director. The students say Ms. Rhodes is a demanding teacher who frequently spends more than 12 hours a day working with all five choirs.

"She wants you to give your all to singing," said Phil Leese, a senior tenor. "She expects you to be committed."

Ms. Rhodes, 39, admits she is demanding.

"It's not OK for them to settle for something less than their best," said the Towson State University graduate. "Kids need to work to their potential. They'll work up to what you expect of them."

Practices can be very intense and emotional. Friday, throughout renditions of "Fiddler Man" and "I'm Gonna Sing Til the Spirit Moves in My Heart," Ms. Rhodes used her hands, her feet, her lips, and even her toes to draw the students into the spirit of the music.

Her left foot constantly tapped the rhythm. Her fingers went to her lips when she wanted the chorus to sing more softly.

When the students tried to sustain a note, Ms. Rhodes raised up on her toes and held her left hand high above her head until the note ended.

"It makes a big difference," Ms. Rhodes said of her body expressions. "They need to know that you're in there with them."

The members said they appreciated the encouragement.

"We know exactly what she wants you to do," said Tom Jackson, a senior bass. "Some conductors don't do anything, and you don't know what they want."

"Sometimes when she wants a big sound, she'll walk around with her arms out," said Laurie Napier, a freshman alto. "She'll tell us to be marshmallows."

For Ms. Rhodes, music is as important to students as textbooks and physical education classes.

"I think academics make you smart, sports make you fit, and music makes you human," she said. "It's all about emotion."

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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