Senior Alexis Barrientes remembers the moment she realized she wanted to pursue a career in music.
The Veterans Memorial choir member was performing at a vocal clinic when she began to mentally picture the scene of the tune and nearly started to cry.
“I was like, ‘This is what the audience is supposed to feel. If I’m feeling this up here, what is the audience thinking,” said Barrientes, 17. “That’s when I thought, ‘I want to feel this for the rest of my life.’”
Although solid vocals are a necessity for choir members, their main objective is to tell a story and convey emotion, Barrientes explained. With that comes hours of rehearsal, research on the music and studying the intricacies and dynamics of a piece.
“You’re really supposed to know what your song is about when you perform it in front of the judge,” the VMHS alto said. “That’s something that’s really exciting. It’s different than just singing a song. You have to really put yourself and your work into it.”
Both Veterans and Mission high schools have about six competitions a year and continuously take home high rankings and All-State titles. Each competition works differently, some are full choir, others solo and ensemble.
Both groups had members qualify for the state solo and ensemble competition by earning superior ratings performing college-level music. The next competition the groups are rehearsing for is the full-choir UIL concert in April.
Eleven students from VMHS were awarded superior ratings for their performances at a UIL Solo and Ensemble contest. In May, they’ll move on to compete in the Texas State Solo and Ensemble contest in Austin.
VMHS students advancing to the state UIL contest are Alexis Barrientes, Dara San Martin, Ashley Alaniz, Rachel Walzer, Maria Almendarez, Karina Romero-Gutierrez, Ana Karen Martinez, Darius Davis, Vanessa Cano, Brian Mueller and Juan Lara.
Eight students from MHS qualified for the state competition. Soloists who qualified are: Xavier Alonzo, Carolina Gonzalez, Esai Balderas, Emara Balderas, Frankie Chaires, Oscar Salinas, Sarah Cantu. The men’s quartet members are: Xavier Alonzo, Esai Balderas, Joel Guerrero, Oscar Salinas.
Often times the music is in another language, which ups the difficulty factor. But for those planning to continue their choir career post high school, they view it as building their repertoire.
“Sometimes you think, ‘I want to get out. I’m so tired.’ Then you have those moments and you want this to be your life,” VMHS senior Brian Mueller said. “We all have that moment when we fell in love (with choir) and that’s why most of us are going to college because we want to keep doing that.”
With the amount of time invested into the program, MHS Director Kathryn Callaway said it takes a physical and emotional toll on the students. Singers can develop pharyngitis or strained vocal chords with bad singing habits.
“These guys are fully invested in what they’re doing. They put everything they have into it and when they get disappointed it’s hard,” the MHS director of 10 years said.
But even with the injuries, Mission High member Carolina Gonzalez said she always has her “choir family” to lift her spirits. The camaraderie aspect is a favorite for many in the program. It has allowed them to connect and reconnect with people they now cherish.
“I think that the best part about being in choir is that you get with a group of people that you might not have gotten to know and you make this beautiful thing that’s music,” said MHS member Oscar Salinas.
The students spend hours on end together both in their free time and in practice. The directors run rigorous programs so as to prepare them for contest, allowing them to take home the titles they do.
VMHS Director Vanessa Sepulveda said she’s strict with her students because she expects a lot from them and knows the level at which they can perform, a trait Callaway identifies with as well.
“If it’s not your best, it’s just not good enough. And that can be harsh, but I try to prepare them for the real world because the real world is not sugar coated,” Callaway said. “Part of my responsibility is to make them not just good choir people, but good all around people.”
Among vocal strength, the students explained that the program helped them learn discipline, obtain leadership skills and develop confidence. The choir even provides a therapeutic escape from their other activities.
“It’s rewarded putting time and effort into something and then seeing it was worth it in the end,” said Ana Karen Martinez, a Veterans alto. “You need something like this in your life…because you get home, your head is thumping, you have homework. With choir, you just stray away from that. It’s like, ‘This is me, the music, our choir.’”