MHS Concert Choir came out on top at the OSAA 4A State Choir Competition, tying with La Grande

COURTESY PHOTO - Molalla High School's concert choir comes away from the state competition on May 4 with a first place trophy.After winning the league title in March, on May 4 Molalla High School Concert Choir went on to become state 4A co-champions in a rare tie with La Grande.

Three factors play into the overall score of 360 points possible: performance, sight reading and time. At the performance level, Molalla led La Grande 272 to 267. But La Grande went ahead with a sight reading score of 56 to Molalla's 46. La Grande suffered a time penalty of five points, bringing the schools to a dead tie at 318.

"Out of 360 total points, to tie is pretty unusual," said Tim Friesen, Molalla's choir director.

However, Molalla has tied at state before. A few years ago, Molalla tied for second place with none other than La Grande.

This year, not only was there a tie for the win, but the top four covered a difference in scores of only four points.

"We were fortunate enough this time to do the very best we could, and to have three judges agree," Friesen said. "On another day, one of those other choirs could have taken first place, because if you had three different judges, who knows what those judges would hear? But we do know this: those five choirs that finished in the top five were excellent."

Ultimately, the judges scored Molalla's performance the highest of any other 4A choir. It included four numbers: a Brazilian piece titled "Celebrai!," a 500-year-old Latin piece called "O Magnum Mysterium," an African tribal (Xhosa) piece titled "Dubula" and an American Spiritual piece "Wade in the Water."

"Wade in the Water" is a map song, containing coded messages that African American slaves used to help people escape from the south to the north through the Underground Railroad. Friesen said the song was used by Harriet Tubman.

"We walked off that stage going, there's nothing more that we could do than what we did." -Molalla Choir Director Tim Friesen

According to Friesen, the choir's performance of those songs could not have gone better.

"It was the most relaxed I've ever been on stage at state," Friesen said, "because—we call it the invisible line between the director and the students—and there was just really a nice invisible line where they trusted me and I trusted them. So it was a very smooth, comfortable, beautiful performance. We walked off that stage going, there's nothing more that we could do than what we did. We didn't leave anything. We didn't mess up on anything. I just couldn't be more pleased with what they did on stage."

Their sight reading score, though the lowest in the top five, is an improvement from last year and an accomplishment given the circumstances. After the choir's win at the league competition and after their weeklong tour, Friesen ended up sick and, for the first time in his career, missed an entire week of school during which he was unable to help his students train for sight reading.

"This year, we got much stronger, worked much harder at it, and I was really proud of them," Friesen said. "They performed with courage and did a pretty darn good job considering that they'd lost that whole week of preparation."

The hard work from choir and director paid off and culminated in the school's second ever state choir win.

"From the beginning of the year, I could just tell it was a group that was pretty special," Friesen said. "Their work ethic was excellent…As a result, they've really put together a beautiful sound, probably one of the very best sounding groups I've ever had."

The community will have a chance to hear the choir's special sound in a free spring concert on May 15 at 7 p.m. at the Molalla High School auditorium. Also, a video of the choir's state performance is available online at the Facebook page: "Molalla High School Concert Choir."

Kristen Wohlers
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