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WLHS singers selected by audition to All NW Jazz Choir

Hundreds of students tried out for the small, select group
by: Jim Hart, Three West Linn High School seniors were chosen by audition to the All Northwest Jazz Choir, and will perform in February with very challenging music at venues in Portland. Pictured in the high school’s choir room are Tenor Adam Pettitt, Alto Nina Dalgaard, standing, and soprano Marta Hanson.

The recent announcement that three West Linn High School students were selected by audition to the All Northwest Jazz Choir is remarkable, according to WLHS Choir Director Barb Fontana.

Drawing from the hundreds of schools in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, Washington and Oregon, the National Association for Music Education (MENC) picks only 16 students to form the biennial jazz choir.

Three of those 16 are coming from Fontana's classes at West Linn High School: Nina Dalgaard, Marta Hanson and Adam Pettitt.

'This is hugely significant,' Fontana said. 'You have a lot of singers from all those states that are vying for those few slots,' Fontana said. 'So it becomes incredibly selective and the audition is pretty daunting.'

Each singer's packet of material included an audition tape, she said, with a challenging song for the mixed choir (classical). On the audition tape, each vocalist sang their part as well as another solo chart, a jazz piece and a cappella scales.

The All Northwest musical experience for these teens will occur at MENC in mid-February in Portland. Prominent conductors will be brought in to direct a group of students, most of whom have never before performed music with one another or with the new director.

Every two years, MENC also selects an All Northwest mixed choir, jazz band, symphonic band and orchestra.

Performances are set on Feb. 16 and 18 at a venue to be announced.

Adam Pettitt

This is Adam's second time to be chosen to an All-Northwest choir, the result of more than a decade of vocal development.

He had no trouble producing an audition tape, which included some challenging a cappella music as well as scales to test the singer's ear.

'Singing is my passion,' he said. 'I love being able to sing anything.'

Adam's love for music goes beyond just singing. He wants to be stretched with challenging literature.

'I absolutely love challenging music because it pushes me to go farther that what I normally do,' he said. 'And it makes me a better musician.'

But Adam goes beyond just learning his music; he also wants to help others learn their music. To fulfill that desire, he volunteers as an assistant teacher for freshmen and sophomores in WLHS Choir Director Barb Fontana's classes.

'Adam is musically gifted, and has a high musical aptitude and a great ear,' Fontana said. 'He hasn't studied a lot formally and approaches new music in a non-linear fashion.

'He'll just learn something; it'll just come to him, and I'll ask how he figured it out. And he'll say: 'I don't really know.''

Although Adam sings a wide variety of music styles, he prefers jazz and classical.

'Jazz is so amazing and fascinating,' he said. 'It's a strict genre, but at the same time it's so free. There's no right or wrong way to sing it.'

His favorite performers are the 'First Lady of Song' Ella Fitzgerald and the 'Velvet Fog' Mel Torme, who he emulates and imitates - producing his own kind of fog.

'Mel Torme has a great influence on my voice,' Adam said. 'He's just outstanding, and I try to model myself after him.'

Although he usually judges a song by how the performer sings it, Adam said he would choose as his favorite songs 'For Once In My Life' and 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off.'

Fontana is looking forward to the All Northwest jazz choir performances in February when she anticipates Adam spreading his kind of fog over Portland.

Marta Hanson

After developing her voice for more than a decade and playing piano since she was 7, Marta can boast well-honed skills. And that's what enabled her to become one of the chosen few for the All Northwest Jazz Choir.

'I had my first solo at a Christmas concert when I was 5,' she said. 'I was too young to be nervous.'

Marta has had some help developing her love for music. Both of her parents are skilled musicians and likely are responsible for igniting the spark that now burns within Marta as a passion for all types of music.

'There are so many different kinds of music that communicate so many different emotions,' she said, 'and I love that. I love exploring the different styles, and I love whatever kind of music I'm singing.'

But jazz will be her favorite when she joins the prestigious 16-member All Northwest Jazz Choir.

'Singing in a jazz choir with the director off to the side is a completely different feel than a classical choir,' Marta said. 'But I really enjoy it because you get to look at the other singers and smile and make faces and look at the audience. It's a lot of fun.'

Obviously Fontana is one of Marta's biggest fans, complimenting her commitment to her gift as well as for helping others with theirs.

'Marta has been studying piano probably since the womb,' Fontana said. 'Her parents have nurtured in Marta her musical gift.'

Fontana also praised the teen-beyond-her-years because of the way she unselfishly teaches others.

'She is very others-centered,' the teacher said, 'so when she gets in a group situation she has this sense of responsibility to help everybody be successful.'

Marta said she could name a lot of singers as her favorites, but her choice probably depends on how she's feeling at that moment or who she heard sing most recently. But on her list would be folk singers Eva Cassidy and James Taylor.

And if asked to instantly break into song, Marta said she would sing jazz, and it would sound like this:

Summertime,

And the livin' is easy.

Fish are jumpin'

And the cotton is high …

Nina Dalgaard

Nina is a newcomer to vocal music, especially to West Linn High School choirs. But that doesn't mean she's new to music. She has seven years of experience in bands, and a couple in a church choir.

'I joined choir in my senior year,' she said, 'just to have some fun. Band is fun, too, (she's still in band) but I just wanted to expand my music.'

Possessing a natural ability to express feelings through music, Nina moves listeners with her soft alto voice.

'I've always loved singing,' she said. 'My mom told me that ever since I could talk I've been singing. But I haven't put much commitment into it until this year.'

Fontana said it's significant that Nina was selected to All Northwest in her first year in the choir.

'She's just got monstrous ears,' Fontana complimented her student, 'and she's as sharp as a tack. She's a quick learner and has a keen sense of style - the ability to listen to something and break down its components and be able to sing something stylistically correct.'

Nina likes all types of music such as classical, slow ballads, jazz and orchestra.

But if asked to instantly select a favorite, she would choose from her smooth jazz repertoire: 'Stella By Starlight.'

Although she said she might feel a little intimidated when she attends the All Northwest rehearsals, Nina also realizes that she has a gift in her velvet voice and ability to communicate in song.

Fontana said she'll be just fine on the All Northwest stage, and the experience will help her discover the depth and breadth of her gift.