Singing for a panel of experts who are judging every nuance of the performers voice can be a daunting experience.
“A lot of people walk out of there crying,” South Fayette Township High School senior Ariel Cameroe Radinovic said.
But she emerged from the scrutiny of her National Association for Music Educators’ audition with the honor of being selected as a vocalist in the All-National Honors Ensemble.
“Honestly, I could not believe it whenever I found out,” she said. “Nationals seemed like this unattainable thing, like this one-in-a-million chance since there are so many people from all over the country who audition for this.”
Just 240 of the students were chosen to participate in the association’s national conference, which took place virtually in early January.
“One of the things that I love so much about these festivals is getting to meet hundreds of kids who have similar interests,” Ariel said. “So it was definitely different, but I think they executed it really well.”
Along with plenty of music education opportunities, the students worked with Grammy Award winning composer and conductor Eric Whitacre, a pioneer in orchestrating virtual choirs a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each student is recording videos of their parts in various songs, and everyone’s performance will be mixed together for a performance that will premiere online in March, during Music In Our Schools Month.
For Ariel, her selection for the national ensemble came after successful auditions through the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association’s district, region and state levels. For the latter, she earned first place for her voice part, Alto II.
“For each of those festivals, we have at least seven pieces to learn. They are highly technical pieces,” she said. “We’ve performed everything from Latin to Korean, so there’s always a new challenge.”
The auditions represent major challenges, themselves.
“You get there, and you don’t know what part of a piece they’re going to ask you to sing. So you have to have all of that prepared before you walk in,” Ariel said. “You get one restart, so you have to make that split-second decision: Is my mistake worth starting over and risking messing up more on the restart? There are all kinds of factors to consider when you’re in there, and it’s just a huge sigh of relief when you’re done.”
Preparation, of course, is a key factor.
“You really have to analyze every aspect of it. You’re being graded with points based on your rhythm, your accuracy and then also your tone quality,” Ariel said. “You could be accurate and everything, but if they don’t like a certain tone that you have in your voice, or you’re not focused on putting emotion into the song, that could be the difference between moving on or not.”
She credits Christine Elek, director of high school choirs at South Fayette, with “a ton of my success,” and Ariel also studies with Betsy Lawrence, a faculty member in Carnegie Mellon University’s music department.
At her high school, Ariel has been a member of the Vocal Point Select Choir since she was a sophomore, and the preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19 have made for an unusual experience this year.
“Our ensembles are much smaller, because not everybody is in the building at the same time. The sound is different, and the approach that we have to take is different,” she said. “We only have one bass in the choir, because everybody else is virtual.”
The pandemic has been detrimental to the vocalists in other ways.
“One of the things that is so great about Select Choir is all of the performances that we do outside of school, especially around the holidays,” Ariel said. “That didn’t happen this year, which is disappointing.”
She is excited, though, about preparing for the school’s spring musical.
“We’ve all been waiting since the auditions a few months ago to start rehearsals,” she said. “We get to see each other all together again, even though it is different. We have assigned seats six feet apart and that kind of thing, but it is nice to have somewhat of that return to normalcy.”
Ariel plans to study political science in college, followed by law school – her participation in South Fayette’s mock trial program helped set her career path – but she certainly wants to continue to exercise her vocal skills.
“I would love to be involved in a drama club on campus, any musicals that I can, any way that I can keep going with singing and performing,” she said. “That would be awesome.”