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Middle school musicians shine

Singers, musicians from West Orient and Dexter McCarty will be featured at Eugene event
by: Shanda Tice, Choir members of West Orient Middle School Concert Choir sing “Alleluia, Clap your Hands” last Thursday night at the Gresham-Barlow board meeting.

The Gresham-Barlow School District building briefly became a concert hall at the board's Jan. 10 meeting when the Dexter McCarty Middle School Wind Ensemble and the West Orient Middle School Concert Choir performed.

Dexter McCarty, under the direction of Gene Burton, opened the evening with a rousing performance of 'Where Eagles Soar.' Then West Orient, directed by Amber Schroeder, came up and sang 'Sing Alleluia, Clap Your Hands.'

The board welcomed both groups, whose members were decked out in black and white formal attire, and officially recognized them for being selected to perform at the Oregon Music Educators Association Convention in Eugene on Saturday, Jan. 26. Statewide, only four such middle school groups were selected to perform at the convention, including the Gresham-Barlow groups.

Athena Vadnais, district spokesman, said she was moved by the students' performances.

'It is amazing what these young, talented musicians can do,' she said. 'Their music really takes your breath away. When you witness one of their performances, you know they are the cream of the crop.'

For Burton and Schroeder, the evening was a reunion of sorts - Burton was Schroeder's band teacher at West Orient back in the 1980s.

'It's very nice to know that the program that I left is in good hands,' Burton said.

He added that his students were excited about their upcoming trip to Eugene.

'This is kind of one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences where kids get to do this, especially in middle school.'

Aaron Cochran, an eighth-grade baritone saxophonist at McCarty, predicted the Eugene concert would be 'pretty cool.'

'I've never been there.'

He added that he used to play tenor saxophone, but gave up the higher-pitched instrument for the weightier sound of the baritone.

'I just like bass,' he said.

Claire Rehmke, a seventh-grader who plays trumpet, shared Aaron's excitement about the upcoming trip.

'I've never been to, like, an all-state sort of thing,' she said.

She took up trumpet because her father plays it, she said.

'Not maybe as well, but he plays it,' she said with a chuckle.

She said she took a shine to the instrument because it's capable of making 'like eerie sort of sounding sort of stuff and jazz.'

The West Orient singers said they were honored to be invited to sing by the board and the convention. Kiara Stellato, an eighth-grader and a soprano, has been singing for years, and is dedicated to the choir.

'I do it because I love to sing, and it's just a really great opportunity for me to improve my vocal talents.'

She said she likes all types of songs, including ones culled from musicals as well as pop tunes and hip-hop.

'Gospel's fun, too.'

She added that she enjoys when the choir tries to tackle choral pieces with four- and even six-part harmonies.

'Sometimes I'm not really good enough to do that, so it really challenges and pushes you.'

Xavier Fay, also in the eighth grade, sings bass, and said he had never been to Eugene, so he was excited for the upcoming performance. He added that he likes when the choir practices songs in other languages.

'It's really challenging to me.'

He noted that Schroeder has helped him develop his ability to sing higher than he has in the past, and he plans to keep singing well beyond middle school.

For her part, Schroeder said her students 'are literally my life.'

'When we make the music like the music we're striving to create, it's pretty powerful.'

Middle School musicians

The Dexter McCarty Middle School Wind Ensemble and the West Orient Middle School Concert Choir will perform at the Oregon Music Educators Association Convention in Eugene on Saturday, Jan. 26. The annual conference is taking place from Thursday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Eugene Hilton and Hult Center for the Performing Arts.