High school music dept. wins invite to Carnegie Hall

After Choral Director Sara Durkin was hired last year, she hit the ground running to get the large North Andover High School chorus in shape, initiating after school and night rehearsals for the first time.

“We did a lot of work focused on vocal technique,” says Durkin, a 2006 Music Education graduate of Providence College. “We set high but attainable goals and stayed focused on doing whatever we could to make sure we qualified for the Heritage Festivals Music Competition in Philadelphia.”

The work paid off big time this year, as North Andover was the top scoring school Music Department at the national festival on April 17. The chorus will perform at the National Youth Choir Festival at Carnegie Hall next spring.

The school competed at the national festival last year, and Durkin says this experience paid off.

“This year I knew more of what to expect,” says Durkin. “It’s good to be nervous because it means you care. Even though I was a little nervous I knew we would do well because we had prepared for it well.”

The ratings at the festival are strict, based on tonal quality, balance, blend, stage presence, expression, rhythmic accuracy, diction, and the quality and level of the music. It is not easy to be rated gold by the discerning festival judges. The large NAHS Concert Choir was rated gold and took First Place.

“We were the only school at the competition that got a gold medal,” says Durkin.

Orchestral groups and soloists from the school also excelled at the festival, leading to North Andover emerging as the top scoring school Music Department, winning the 2010 Festival Sweepstakes Award.

The NAHS Scarlet and Black Singers took First Place in the Silver Category. The Concert Choir took first place in the Gold Category, winning the Outstanding Choir award and the Choral Sweepstakes Award as the highest scoring choir.

The North Andover Wind Ensemble took third place in the silver category and the Symphonic Band won a silver rating. Maestro Awards for Outstanding Soloists went to Sally Jeffery on flute, NAHS Chorus President Emily Ingram for her alto solo, and Ben McGuire for his tenor solo.

You can hear these winning voices this weekend, since the entire Concert Choir is performing in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” this weekend. Emily Ingram, who plays Sally in the show and gets to sing a duet on “I Get a Kick Out of You,” with Mallory Curtin as Reno, is happy to round out her last year in high school with a national festival win.

“We worked really, really hard for this,” says Ingram. “We’d always dreamed of having one of those gold trophies, and when they finally announced the awards, we were excited beyond belief. It was a great way to end my senior year.”

Tenor Ben McGuire says it’s the first award he has ever won.

“I was extremely excited because I’ve never been singled out for an award before,” says McGuire, who sings in “Anything Goes” as Johnny No Shoes, a gangster in hiding, disguised as a monk. “I was ecstatic. It was an amazing feeling. I had a great experience with it.”

Durkin says she is blessed to have such a talented bunch of students to work with.

“North Andover is a great town,” says Durkin. “They’re really great kids, and that makes it exciting to go to work every day.”

NAHS Principal Carla Scuzzarella says she is really proud of this Music Department.

“This festival was the culmination of two years of hard work by our chorus under Sara Durkin and the band under Aaron Goldberg,” says Scuzzarella. “It reflects the way these students carry themselves as young adults representing North Andover. It’s nice to have this kind of recognition to validate their hard work.”

Durkin says the next hard work is going to be raising enough money to send the chorus to New York City next spring to sing in Carnegie Hall.

“This trip will be expensive, and we’ll need donations from businesses and individuals to help fund our trip,” says Durkin. “Donations in any amount will be welcome.”

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