Howell High School’s top choirs, the A Cappella choir, the Highlander Choral, Classicality, and Calamity took a tour showcasing students’ talents while happily entertaining and being entertained by other schools across the nation.
For the three-day trip, Eric Johnson from Northern Illinois University (NIU), whom choir director, Mr. Rod Bushey, has known for years, planned the itinerary around Southwest Michigan and into Chicago, Illinois. During this quick trip, choirs performed seven times at various locations.
The choirs’ first stop was at Edwardsburg High School in Edwardsburg, Michigan on April 10 where students performed well. Their stay was brief and they continued on their way after a few short hours.
Later that day, 86 students, 22 chaperones, and Mr. Bushey went to the Chicago Palace Theatre to see the Broadway musical, “Catch Me If You Can”. After the show, they made a swift stop at Giordano’s Chicago Pizza for dinner. “Ya have to get that,” said Bushey about stopping at the famous pizzeria.
Next up on the itinerary was checking into the Wyndham Lisle-Chicago Hotel, a first class hotel. To go on this trip each student paid $218. This covered transportation, hotel accommodations, entertainment, and some meals. During the trip, students paid for five meals out-of-pocket. This trip was very affordable resulting in most of the choirs’ participation.
The second day was the longest, most action-packed day of activity for the chorus. It was well worth the hard work for everyone involved. “It was a performance tour. They were not just going to sit on their hands. They are going to go and perform at some place,” said Bushey.
On this day HHS started off performing for another high school, Aurora West High School, with a performance from them following. Soon after, the choirs quickly moved on to Waubonsie Valley High School to perform. After the show that same show choir performed a song from the classic musical Rent called ‘Love on Wheels’ for the HHS students. “It was truly inspiring because they are one of the best show choirs in the nation,” said Bushey.
After a day of performing, the group had enough time to squeeze in a shopping excursion to the Westfield Fox Valley Mall.
Mid-day, the next stop was McCleery Elementary. When the choir finished their performance the principal approached the chorus and shared that it had been their first assembly all school year because they couldn’t afford one. She praised them with how much their students loved the show and how appreciative she was that the choirs did it for free.
Still during their long second day, the choirs then went to the Holy Cross Christian School where they performed a number from the iconic musical “Jersey Boys” as well. To assist in the dance number the choir brought along one percussionist, one trumpet and one base player from the band.
Once again, the chorus went back to Westfield Fox Valley Mall. After that small break in between, they then went to an assisted living center, Independence Village, where they got to perform for the residents as well as get to stay and visit with them a little.
On the third and final day, the choirs made one last performance at Northern Illinois University where their choir also performed for Howell High in return. While at the university the students were given a conducting class, ate lunch on campus, and got to rehearse and perform with the NIU choir.
The choirs returned home to Howell High School at 10:30 p.m. Friday April 12 and competed at festival the next morning.
“It was a really fun experience. We got to go to a lot of schools. We learned how to improve our pieces and improve our performances,” said sophomore Lana Neff.
Taking place this Thursday, May 2, at seven o’clock in the Howell High School auditorium the band and choir are going to be putting on their annual Collage Concert. It is a highly anticipated part of each school year and even people completely unattached to either the band or choir attend for just the sheer joy and excitement it brings.
There will be no ticket fee but a $5 donation is suggested to get into the show. Unlike any other concerts the school puts on, the Collage Concert is arranged so there is no applause in between each set. One set performs under a spotlight with everything surrounding them dark. Once they are finished the light shuts off and immediately is put on the next set so it is one continuous array of music.
Although the set up is very captivating and exciting, it is a lot of work simply to just get in a workable order. With many students in multiple sections of choir and band or even participating in both choir and band, it is quite the task for both Mr. Rod Bushey, choir director, and Mr. Jason Smigell, band director, to arrange the order of the sets that play as so that students in multiple sets don’t have an accidental back-to-back performance.
This concert is an amazing blend of the HHS choirs and bands. It will be featuring the best musicians in our department. This concert has become an expected “opportunity for our best players to be showcased,” said Smigell.
The top choirs involved are the A Cappella choir as well as the three Choral groups: Calamity, Classicality, and the Highlander Chorale. The sections of the band involved is, of course, the top band – the Wind Ensemble, as well as percussion, a blue grass band, a jazz band and each individual who performed well at festival and received a score of one. All the groups playing consist of individuals who qualify at state level, not including the many more students who do qualify as well but could not be fit into the already extremely full concert.
“Great collaboration,” said Bushey. “It was grown over the years in quality and variety.”This year both the choir and band will be showing off some new things they haven’t done yet throughout their concerts, adding a new thrill to the show. This concert truly is considered the best of the year and never fails to impress the audience that turns out. Every year there are always new discoveries made, whether it is a band parent seeing the choir for the first time or vice versa. This concert absolutely is worth coming to.”
“The coolest thing is you get to have both vocal and instrumental,” said Smigell, “It’s all put in one place and is on one stage. People should come because it’s like ‘band and choirs greatest hits of 2013.’”
This month was a big month for Howell High School’s choir program. They held their third concert of the year, the pre-festival concert, and then a couple weeks later went to compete at festival.
Choir festival lasted three days and took place at two high schools. Two choirs went each day, along with parent chaperones. On Monday, March 18 Women’s Chorale and Women’s Select went to Waterford Kettering High School. On Tuesday, March 19 Highlander Chorale and A Cappella choir also went to Waterford Kettering. The last day, Wednesday, March 20, Women’s Varsity choir and Men’s Varsity choir went to Walled Lake Western High School to perform.
For seniors, performing at their last festival was a bittersweet event.
“It was sad because I don’t plan on doing anything choir involved after high school, so that was my last choir experience,” says senior Jessica Hunter, a member of the A Cappella choir.
But for freshmen the day was quite different, considering it was their first time going to a high school choir festival. Chaylea Heilner, who’s in Women’s Select choir, is one of the many freshmen who had the joy of experiencing that this year.
“My first high school festival was a little different from middle school because we had more sight reading… and harder judges,” says Heilner.
All of the choirs sang for three performance judges, and one sight reading judge. A Cappella choir, Highlander Chorale, Women’s Select, Women’s Chorale, and Men’s Varsity all earned ones on their performances and qualified for state. Women’s Varsity choir got a two on their performance. All choirs scored at least 25 out of 30 on sight reading, and all choirs received medals.
“The choirs were all well commented by the judges,” says choir director Mr. Rod Bushey.
The judges said that the choirs performed with understanding and discipline. The parent chaperones were also very impressed with the students performances. Says Mr. Bushey about all of his choirs overall scores and performances, “It made me proud to be their director, I’ll tell you that.”
This year’s Dr. Marilyn S. Jones Vocal Scholarship Competition took place on February 24 at the First Baptist Church of Howell. The competition brings about monetary prizes for competing students from around the county.
Judges were brought in from out of county and range in credentials. One of the judges was Douglas Armstead, a seventh and eighth grade choral music teacher at Steiner Chorale in Lansing and is on his 21st year of teaching. The second was Greg Cleveland who has taught vocal music at Walled Lake Western for 20+ years. And lastly, there was Martha Sheil who is an Associate Professor of Voice at the University Of Michigan School Of Music, Theatre & Dance.
The prizes ranged from $1,000 for 1st place, $500 for 2nd place, and $300 for 3rd place. The scholarships go directly towards college music instruction and tuition, voice lessons, or any type of music based camp. The money is donated by Dr. Marilyn S. Jones in remembrance of David Jones, Ralph and Suzanne Lange for the Harper & Virginia Maybee memorial, and the children and grandchildren of Rose and Kenneth Shultz.
During the application process, contestants are required to obtain a “letter of recommendation” so to speak, from a music teacher, a church choir director, etc. The form initially starts with whether or not the recommender does in fact recommend, and then asks for a rating of characteristics, such as vocal talent, desire to improve, maturity/stability, ability to achieve goals, and interest in pursuing vocal studies to help aid in the decision of the competition’s winners.
A handful of Howell High School students participated in the event, which is free of charge to enter, and two walked away with recognized places. Adam Sciberras, a HHS senior, won first place with $1,000 and Shelby McDowell, also a senior at HHS, took second place with $500. Last year, another HHS student also took first place, Hayley Jensen, who moved up from the previous year’s 3rd place rank. Both scholarships awarded to Sciberras and McDowell will go towards their choice of educational/musical tuition.
“I think it’s a great way for students to see other singers from around Livingston County in other high schools,” says Sciberras. “It’s a great experience and is such a great opportunity. We are so lucky to have it here. I was really surprised when they had announced I won first place. There were some great singers and it was a great competition this year. We are very lucky to have such a wonderful opportunity here as high school students.”
The competition was at its finest this year with more students competing than the last year. As the number of competitors grows, so does the quality. The founders of the scholarship competition are excited to see what the next few years bring and are thankful to see their donations going to well deserving students.
“At first I hadn’t planned on entering because I felt I had more important things to focus on,” says McDowell. “But my mom convinced me to do it and I am so happy that I did. When my name was called for 2nd place I was extremely surprised considering the competition I was faced with, but it’s a great honor. Having the extra money toward my education is an amazing help. If I ever get another chance to sing in a competition, I won’t even think twice.”
On March 18, 19, and 20, a total of six choirs from Howell High School, accompanied by director, Rod Bushey, are taking a field trip to Waterford Kettering and Walled Lake Western, where they will meet up with other high school choirs from across Michigan to participate in the 2013 Choir Festival, hosted by the Michigan School Vocal Music Association (MSVMA).
Each choir has been working on two songs since the beginning of the school year that they will be performing in front of a number of judges at the festival. They will be scored on a scale, Superior being the highest rank, on the two pieces they perform. From there they will be tested on their sight-reading skills. The choir will get a piece of music that they have never seen before and they will be required to sing each note in tune and as a unit. The choirs will also get an opportunity to go to a clinic where they will receive feedback and advice from one of the judges.
“Festival is a great experience. It gives us a chance to work with different conductors and it helps us improve our choir,” says Highlander Choral member, Kaitlynn Cortez.
“I really enjoy getting to spend some time with my choir and performing as one unit, one family. We all work really hard to get ready for festival, and it’s awesome to be able to perform our hard work. I am super excited to simply perform with my ensemble and attempt to score the best we can, “says choir member and junior, Annie Bock.
Howell High School will be hosting a pre-festival concert on March 14 in the auditorium. The choirs will get a chance to practice performing their two songs for festival in front of their family and anyone else who chooses to attend.
“Festival really helps the kids focus at another level. They’re going to be singing in front of other schools and judges. It really motivates them to put their best foot forward,” says Mr. Bushey.
Every year Mr. Rod Bushey puts on a holiday assembly to showcase the choir programs singing ability to the whole school. This year the assembly was on December 21, the last day before winter break. The assembly took place third hour in the Howell High School auditorium.
Carolyn Wilson is a senior at HHS and a member of A Cappella and Highlander Choral singing groups. “A Cappella, Calamity, Highlander Choral and Classicality performed in it,” Wilson says.
Wilson also has a very special part in the assembly; she performed a duet with sophomore Nolan Coy. She also sang a very difficult piece with A Cappella. “A Cappella performing “Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whittacre, a very different and challenging piece, one of our classes’ favorites,” Wilson says.
Tasha Collins, another senior at HHS and member of A Cappella, was really excited about the songs they sang. “We performed “Jingle Bells”. It’s a little bit jazzy,” Collins says.
This concert lets staff and students at HHS see amazing performances by their fellow classmates.
“I think it’s cool that the other people get to see us sing because they don’t normally show up to our concerts and “Lux Aurumque” is an amazing piece,” Collins says.
The Howell amphitheatre was cold on the evening of October 9, but the kind souls of Livingston Area Council Against Spouse Abuse and the Howell a Cappella Choir provided plenty of warmth and shelter at the annual Domestic Violence Candlelight Vigil.
In its 16th year of running, the vigil included speeches from community members like Prosecuting Attorney David L. Morse, who discussed misconceptions of abuse victims, dynamics of power and control, the courage of survivors, and committing to prosecute abusers in court. A chilling letter from one Livingston-area survivor to her abuser was then read by LACASA staffer Nicole Matthews-Creech, and CEO Bobette Schrandt brought up sobering statistics about the frequency of domestic abuse in the United States. For example, an American woman suffers from domestic violence every nine seconds – that adds up to 200 women during the half hour vigil.
“We have responsibility to bring about change,” said Schrandt, citing the over 90% prosecution rate of domestic abuse in Livingston County as a source of pride and an example of change in the community.
Lining the amphitheater were 101 identical purple silhouettes. Each bore a different name, age, and story; each represented one of the 101 Michigan women who died last year as a result of domestic violence. After setting an appropriately somber backdrop for the event with their voices, several a Cappella singers joined other attendees in reading the real-life tales engraved onto each purple silhouette. Howell High School’s a Cappella Choir has been part of the vigil since its inception 16 years ago.
“After we experienced the first one,” said choir director Rod Bushey, “we were like… ‘Wow, this is powerful’.”
Bushey has strong emotional ties to the subject of domestic violence. One of his former students, a flutist and “an excellent singer”, died as a result of it. His childhood neighbors were also survivors of extreme abuse, to which he was a witness.
“I do [the vigil] because I understand the importance of it,” said Bushey.
That importance – the importance of coming together and forming a safe, supportive space for victims and survivors – was a common theme throughout the night. It was evident not only in the words that were spoken, but in the actions of all those involved as well. Harsh autumn winds snuffed out candles only for them to be relit by kind neighbors willing to share their flame. Hands were shaken, hugs were given, and words of comfort and shared sorrow were exchanged.
“It takes a lot of courage for victims to tell their story,” said Matthews-Creech.
It takes less courage to listen to victims’ stories, but as LACASA shows, taking the next step and becoming a staunch ally can mean the difference between life and death – between being a silhouette or a survivor.
On January 20, HHS choir director Rod Bushey was named MSVMA Teacher of the Year for the state of Michigan. In his 40th year, Mr. Bushey was recognized for his teaching career as a choir director and for his constant passion and love for music education.
Mr. Bushey was also the “Teacher of the Year” for Howell Public Schools in the 1998-99 school year, but he says this music award is one of his greatest accomplishments.
“This is the highest honor I have received as a teaching professional. But I really share this with Mrs. Ives, our accompanist. She is all about excellence and performance. She is such a wonderful lady, and I hold her at such a high esteem as an assistant and a colleague.”
The “Teacher of the Year” award is said to the most prestigious award of the MSVMA. The MSVMA is an organization of vocal music educators that work to make every vocal music program in Michigan better. The organization is 75 years old this year. The “Teacher of the Year” award was established in 1968, the same year Mr. Bushey graduated from high school. The MSVMA is held to a high esteem nationwide. States such as Colorado, Texas, and Arizona, and some universities use MSVMA’s standard of excellence reflected in their festival rubric, to teach choral music and prepare future music educators.
To be considered as a candidate for Teacher of the Year, the following criteria must be reached:
Must be a current member of the MSVMA
Must have taught at least 15 years, with 10 years on the secondary level of Michigan
Must have demonstrated consistent excellence in performance
Must have been influential in creating a love and understanding of music for the masses
Mr. Bushey fits all of the criteria. He was nominated by many secondary teachers in Michigan and by some of the 550 members of the MSVMA. After a month of voting, four people with the most nominations were placed on the ballot. There was a luncheon held to recognize everyone on the ballot and to announce the “Teacher of the Year.”
“It was such a shock. I knew all the people on the ballot and I was convinced one of them would take it. When they announced my name, I couldn’t believe it. It is such an honor to join the ranks of the people I held to such a high esteem. That day, too, 40 minutes before they announced who won, my nephew Andrew texted me. Guess what he said? He told me he had decided to pursue a career in music education. That day was just awesome,” Mr. Bushey remembers.
The MSVMA’s mission is to “educate and inspire all people to understand and value the art of vocal music and its lifelong impact on the human spirit.”
Mr. Bushey has lived up to the MSVMA mission since the day he began teaching, but he may not realize how many students’ hearts he has touched.
“I look up to him. He’s a good guy and no one is more deserving of this award than him,” says HHS junior Chris Brandt.
Rachel German, also a junior at HHS, agrees with Brandt. “Mr. Bushey is really dedicated to his students. Every moment of his life is devoted to his students and to the choir program.”
Not only does Mr. Bushey make a huge impact on his students, but also on his colleagues at HHS. One staff member that he admires most is PE and History teacher, Mr. Matt Holcomb.
“From the perch I see him on, he cannot possibly be looking up to me. It is then a mutual admiration society. For Mr. Bushey to mention me as someone he admires is the highlight of my year. I am honored. He [Bushey] runs a great program. His concerts, singing Valentines and that Christmas concert are fun. He and his talented kids add great flavor to our school,” Mr. Holcomb explains.
Staff, students and community members are celebrating Mr. Bushey’s recognition.
“I have received many gifts from so many different people. I am so overwhelmed by the kind notes I have received. I don’t know how to respond to everyone, all at once or individually!” Mr. Bushey says humbly.
After being the choir director for 40 years, the students, the staff and HHS as a whole, would not be the same without Mr. Bushey.
“Making money isn’t everything. Teaching is a calling. We teach to inspire and to help take our passion and put it in someone else. God gave me a special heart for kids. I love music, but it’s not about what I teach, but who I teach. I love teenagers. There is no teacher that cares more about their students than I do,” Mr. Bushey shares with a smile.
This week the Howell Women’s Chorale and Women’s Select choir will be heading off to Ball State University for their annual choir tour, February 15-16.
Sophomore Jessica Osterhout is a member of Women’s Select choir. This is her first tour, and she is excited. “I get to visit a college and go shopping with my friends.”
Traditionally, students visit a local mall near the college or university and may perform, then spend some free time shopping.
The main purpose of these tours is to help the students perfect the music they will be performing at Festival.
“It’s one of the coolest events,” notes choir teacher Rodney Bushey. “It’s actually been approved by the school board due to its progress.”
This is no surprise, for the tours have been going on for about twenty years. Mr. Bushey has been there for all of them.
“It enhances what you do and performances become bettered,” Mr. Bushey says.
The best part of each tour is that the choir students get a chance to listen to top notch university choirs. They then get the opportunity to perform in front of them and gain some feedback. Listening to the university choirs gives the high school students a perspective on how they sound. Students also get to work in what is called a clinic setting with the head professor of the university choir. There, they gain the advantage of working one on one with a professional, a highlight for the students.
Not only that, but throughout their travels to and from their destination, they get to perform songs at different high schools and middle schools, demonstrating the techniques they have learned. At times, choir actually gets compliments from those schools.
Howell choirs have also had the chance to travel to many different schools and places all over Michigan. They have been to colleges such as Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Grand Valley and Hope College. They have been out of state to places such as Bowling Green, Ohio, Indianapolis, Indiana and Madison, Wisconsin.
This year, Acappella choir will be heading off to Lexington, Kentucky to the University of Kentucky. And, of course, they will be performing on the way there and back to high schools and middle schools.
“Tour is awesome,” says junior and choir student Jordyn Guilmette. “And it’s really fun.”
As the holidays draw nearer, so do winter concerts for HHS band and choirs.
The choir concert, entitled “Fanfare for the Holidays,” will take place on December 14 and 15 at 7:00 PM in the high school auditorium. Each concert will feature nine HHS Choirs: Varsity Women’s, Varsity Men’s, Highlander Men’s, Women’s Select, Women’s Chorale, Calamity, Classicality, Highlander Chorale, and A cappella. The concert will feature a wide variety of music befitting the holiday season. Due to the number of people who attend, it will be split into two separate nights. The finale will feature alumni of A cappella choir singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” and all choirs performing the traditional “Peace, Peace.”
The band’s winter concert will showcase a mixture of “legit” non-holiday music along with more festive tunes. The band also performed at the Fantasy of Lights parade. Band director Jason Smigell encourages students who aren’t related to band members to come anyways. “You might just have some fun!”