Hayden High School Choir a reality

Rumors have been circulating in the Hayden area for months now about how there’s a new singing group around. A choir – a rehearsed choir, of all things – right here in River City, as the song from The Music Man goes – except, in this case, it’s right here in the greater Hayden metro area.

According to rumor, it’s a pretty big choir – 40 or 50 voices (with bodies attached) – that shows up from time to time and wows audiences with its musical moxy.

For once, rumors have not been greatly exaggerated. It’s the Hayden High School Choir, enjoying its second season since its inception last year with the hiring of a new director. It’s the first and only choir in the county school system, so far, that meets and rehearses daily and provides academic credit as a fine arts elective.

Next gig’s a biggy

The choir’s next big outing is the Hayden High School Spring Concert which it will stage jointly with the school’s art department, with the art department exhibiting its work in the school cafeteria, and the choir performing in the choir room nearby. The date has not been set yet, but it will be sometime in late April or early May, with specifics to be announced soon. Admission is free and the public is invited.

A largely-responsible party for the budding musical renaissance is Jason Winningham, hired last year as combination high school choir director, middle school band director, and high school band assistant director. Other responsible parties include school administrators who wanted a choir program and, having provided space in the building designated as a choir room, decided to have one. So, they created the job description for a combination choir and band director and brought Winningham to Hayden.

The catalog of responsible parties also includes, of course, the students themselves, as bright-eyed and clean-cut a group of teens as you’d likely find anywhere, although if they’re typical teens, they’ll likely need nausea pills upon hearing that description of themselves.

Concert programme

Referring to the Spring Concert, Winningham said, “We’ll do a concert of probably 45 minutes or so. It will be in two parts, with one part being serious choral music, including perhaps one song performed in Latin. The second part will be lighter songs, including Broadway show tunes and medleys representing songs of different decades – like the 70s or 80s,” he said.

Students on fire

So what’s it been like – starting a choir program from scratch?

“It was exciting when 48 students signed up for choir last year,”

Winningham said. “The administration has done a wonderful job getting students interested. The assistant principals sought out students who they knew had musical talent or musical background. We have great talent here, with a number of students with singing backgrounds from church choir, and a number of band students who were interested in vocal music as well. From day one, students were on fire to learn this side of the fine arts,” Winningham said.

Winningham said more excitement has come in at least two forms recently this year. “I had four students to make all state choir this year. It’s Feb. 26-28 at Samford University, and I’ve got three boys and a girl that are just bouncing off the walls to go.” Winningham said being selected is quite an honor for the students and a significant accomplishment for a choir in only its second season.

Are you kidding? Russian?

“They have to audition to go to the state choir, and it’s quite competitive,” he said. He added that students have to be able to sing songs in Latin and one or more foreign languages, and that the languages must be properly pronounced and inflected. To make his point, Winningham pulled two or three foreign language pronunciation guides off the shelf of a nearby bookcase. “I’ve tried to help them with these,” he laughed.

Another source of excitement has been receiving a $5000 choir grant from the West Blount Community Foundation. Winningham said he hopes to use the money to replace an obsolete sound system that has faulty speakers and to buy portable risers that can be used when the choir performs away from the school.

“My objective in requesting the grant was to provide the things we need to get the choir out in front of the community more often, and enhance our performances when we do go out,” he said.

Fine arts strengthen academics

Winningham said fine arts programs provide strong support to public school academic programs. “It’s been proved by research that kids who are involved in fine arts score higher on standardized tests than those who are not. That increases their chances of getting scholarships and also reduces their chances of dropping out because they’re involved in something that really interests them.”

“We’ve created something really good here, and I hope to be able to see it continue to grow,” Winningham said.

What about proration?

What about proration? Does it place arts programs in general and the Hayden choir in particular in jeopardy?

“Proration is real and it’s serious,” Winningham said. “To what extent arts programs suffer, along with other things, we’ll just have to wait and see. I know the county administration is doing everything it can to cope with all the challenges it poses.”