This weekend, our state’s most talented high school vocal performers will descend upon Ellensburg, Washington for the 2013 Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and the Washington Music Educators Association State Solo and Ensemble Contest.
Steilacoom High School will be represented by the Steilacoom Mixed Quartet members Julie Landes, Maiia Spangaro, Philip Atwood and Jordan Leech, and again by Tenor Soloist, Philip Atwood. The competition runs Friday, April 26 through Saturday, April 27.
On March 12, 2013, the public heard first hand why these students deserve to represent Steilacoom High School at the state’s highest vocal competition.
The choirs from Pioneer Middle School and Steilacoom High School all took center stage at the Pacific Lutheran University’s Lagerquist Concert Hall, and performed the song “I Hear Sweet Music”, impressing the audience with their concert hall sound, poise and enthusiasm.
However, the person who was blown away the most by the vocal talent of the students standing in front of her, was none other than Lauren Whitham, choir director for Pioneer Middle School and Steilacoom High School.
As the choirs sang their first lines in beautiful harmony, Whitham turned around to the audience, with astonishment on her face and excitedly mouthed the words “oh my gosh”.
“I was blown away by their sound. It truly was a dream come true,” Whitham told South Puget Sound News the day after the concert.
“I love my job,” she added.
As the Saltar’s Point fourth and fifth grade choirs joined the middle school and high school choirs on stage, Whitham, joined by Saltar’s Point Music Director Taylor Reynolds, were suddenly directing 325 students on stage in front of a packed concert hall. Whitham said it was an experience she will never forget.
“The look on the fourth graders faces were priceless. I know they can sing, but they were in shock. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to give all of our vocal students that experience,” she said.
Whitham said she really enjoys working with Reynolds, who teaches both choir and band at Saltar’s Point. It was the first time the three schools combined forces to hold an all-district concert at a big concert hall.
“The Booster Club and the PTA provided funding for the hall. With out their support, that concert would not have happened,” she explained.
A mezzo-soprano herself, this is Whitham’s first year teaching music in the Steilacoom Historical School District. In-between directing the middle school and high school choirs, and mentoring vocal students after school, Whitham sings with Pacific Lutheran University’s Choral Union, which is recognized as one of the nation’s top community choruses.
“Singing with the Choral Union makes me a choir student. It helps me relate to my students, and keeps things in perspective from a director’s point of view,” she said.
Whitham, a Bellarmine graduate, credits her love for music to her high school music teacher, which she describes as ‘fantastic’. Her undergraduate studies in music took place at Pacific Lutheran University. She taught two years in the Bethel School District before coming to Steilacoom and taking charge of its vocal program for grades 6 through 12.
“I came to Steilacoom because I wanted to teach where there was room for growth in the choir program.”
Not only did Whitham find room for growth, she single-handedly changed the attitudes towards the middle school and high school vocal programs, teaching students how to sing, one note at a time.
“The middle school choir students now sound more like high school students,” she said with amazement.
One of the first songs Whitham taught her high school vocal students to sing was the high school fight song.
“At the end of our pep rallies, the students would hear the school’s fight song, and instead of singing it, the kids were yelling it.”
Whitham explained that she could not find a copy of the school’s fight song that had four-part harmony for the choir to sing. The high school band had a copy, but there was nothing for vocalists to work off of. So she purchased a copy, and wrote in the harmony for her students to learn.
“Now they know how to sing the school fight song, instead of yelling it.”
After stunning performances in December at the Winterlight Concert, the choir program at the high school more than doubled in January.
“It’s wonderful to see students participating in wrestling, football, baseball, and sing in the choir,” she said.
Whitham encourages any middle or high school student next year to join choir, even if you don’t know how to sing.
“That’s what I’m here for. I teach students how to sing. I have a degree in vocal pedagogy, which is the art and science of voice instruction. This is what I do.”
Interestingly enough, this year, Steilacoom High School was one of a few high schools where students didn’t have to audition for choir. Whitham said to help her students prepare for district competition earlier this year, she brought in judges to evaluate each ensemble, so the vocalists knew what areas to work on. In the classroom, Whitham expects students to work together, to be kind, and most importantly, be committed to the program.
“I have given so much to these kids, and they have given back so much more. They are carrying me at this point,” she said, with a smile on her face.
At the end of the March 12 concert, Whitham’s high school students proved just how much pride they have in their school, and how much they love to sing. Donning red and yellow pom-poms, red vests, hats, headbands, and unveiling a banner that stretched all the way across the stage, the entire Steilacoom High School Choir sang in four-part harmony the fight song, a capella.
The banner read, “Go Steilacoom Choir”.
Learning how to sing, and how to prepare yourself to perform in front of an audience is something these students will never forget. Whitham is giving her students tools they will use throughout their entire lives. Her guidance will certainly carry Steilacoom High School’s star vocalists through State competitions this weekend.