Darian Hutchinson, senior, 17, a tenor in the Gresham choir program, sums up his passion simply.
'I love music, and I love the storytelling and getting to tell that story to other people,' Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson, the choir president, has certainly been able to share his love this year. The Gresham choir members won a number of awards and earned honors as a group and as individuals on several occasions:
• In February, the Concert Choir was selected to perform at a convention for the Music Educators of the Northwest.
• In March, the Overtone Ensemble won first place in the Chamber Choir division and received the first place award for Overall Outstanding Choir in a national festival in Anaheim, Calif.
• In April, the Concert Choir won first place at the Mount Hood Conference competition.
• During the Oregon School Activities Association solo competition April 30, Lauren Searls was named state soprano champion; Taylor Johnson earned fourth-place in soprano; Hutchinson got fourth place in tenor; Shelby Baisden earned fifth place in alto; Kassandra Haddock got sixth place in alto, and Zach Wright got sixth place in baritone.
• The Concert Choir took fourth place at the OSAA state choir championships May 7, and was the only school in the Portland-metropolitan area to place.
What's interesting when talking with choir members is how little they seem to be interested in besting their competitors, instead talking about how much they simply want to sing well.
For example, Hutchinson, a member of the Overtones, notes he loves to sing 'Mate Saule' or a Latvian hymn about a sunrise.
'It's really emotional, and when we sang it, we really felt all the emotion, and it all came together,' he says.
Fellow Overtone Haddock, 18, a senior and mezzo-soprano, says she thinks the choirs do well because they concentrate on performing such hymns.
'There's so much more depth to the songs,' she says, contrasting it with lighter fare that some high school choirs prefer.
Annie Nedelisky, 17, a junior, alto Overtone, echoes that point.
'We're doing some pretty hard pieces of music this year, and it's good to be challenged that way,' she says.
She also credits the choirs' camaraderie for tightening their overall sound.
'The people are awesome, and it's really fun coming to choir every day,' she says.
Spencer Kelly, 17, a junior who sings baritone in the Overtones and Concert Choir, adds that the Overtones contain several members who can handle performing under pressure. He notes, for example, that some of the Overtones had to pass on the Anaheim competition because of prior commitments, but he and other choir members were able to fill in for the absent members.
'We had to hold down the baritone part through five or six songs … we were missing some people, and we still did great on it,' he says.
All of the singers credit their leader, Janine Kirstein, for taking them to the heights.
'I think it's just the passion she brings to (music),' Hutchinson says. 'All the exercises are no different than what any other choir does, but what she brings to it is different.'
For her part, Kirstein says the choir program benefits from the strong support the Choir Parent Council lends her. The council members meet with her monthly to organize events and chaperones.
'They are a very strong parent group and have helped so much with everything this year and especially fundraising,' she says.