South Dakota Honor Choir concert set for tonight

A South Dakota tradition of nearly two decades will continue tonight (Friday) at Aalfs Auditorium in Slagle Hall.

The approximately 150 members of the 2012 South Dakota Honor Choir have been in rehearsals since Sunday for tonight’s performance. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

The University of South Dakota and the South Dakota American Choral Director's Association (SD-ACDA) will present the 39th annual South Dakota Honor Choir at 7:30 p.m.

The event has drawn approximately 150 of the state's best choral musicians, who have been rehearsing on campus since Sunday, for five to seven hours each day.

"We know that they're probably never going to have another experience like this – in their high school career, for sure," said Al Stanga, executive director of the choir. "The things that they learn musically and vocally, we hope that when they go back to their home schools, they provide leadership in their programs so that it spills over."

Guest conductor Dr. Lynne Gackle, assistant choral director at Baylor University in Waco, TX, said attendees of tonight's concert can expect a variety of music, from a selection by Mozart, to pieces in Latin, French and German, to some written in the 20th century.

Choir participants were culled from more than 400 incoming high school juniors and seniors from around the state, Stanga said.

"The students sing a prepared solo, sight-singing, tonal memory and they also do a written test over musical terms and symbols," he said. "When it's all done we tabulate them, and the students with the highest scores are the ones that come here."

Stanga said approximately 30 to 40 percent of the choir members participate both years.

"It's a competitive audition, so there's no guarantee," he said.

"Every year there are people … who made it as juniors who don't make it again as seniors," added Dr. David Holdhusen, director of choral activities at USD and current president of SD-ACDA.

Holdhusen said that when the audition process is complete, the chosen students then have to learn the pieces they will perform at the final concert.

"They come in with their music, so they should have everything learned as they come in," he said. "So, it's Lynne's job to polish it and put it together for the concert."

"(Rehearsals are) going very well," Gackle said Tuesday. "The students have a great work ethic. They have worked very hard, and they continue to work hard. …

"They have to really maintain a lot of focus, but they're doing really well with that. There's lots of talent in this area," she said. "They're very quick to pick up."

Other teachers at various colleges and universities also serve as section leaders throughout the week.

"It's a combined effort of a lot of people to have these kids here, and once here, to put this program together," Gackle said.

This is the second consecutive year USD has served as the host site for the choir.

"It usually moves about the state, but just scheduling and staff changes at other universities meant that USD would have it again this year," Holdhusen said. "Last year was my first time hosting it, and it certainly made it easier just in terms of, I knew more how to run things as the week went along."

There are a lot of aspects to coordinate, he said.

"When Al has done the auditions and hired the conductor, it's my responsibility to get housing and meals and any musicians that we need, get the rehearsal spaces ready, get the concert space ready, prepare the program, all those types of things," he said.

Holdhusen said his main objective is to get all of that work done "so that when the students get here it's a seamless process for them, and they can focus on the music and really becoming a choir."

He added that the university is honored to be able to fill that role.

"We're just really excited to have 150 of the best singers in the state here, and to showcase the campus, and specifically the concert hall at Aalfs Auditorium. It's a beautiful space for them to sing," he said.

The annual event is a special one for Stanga, who was one of the five-member committee that founded it 39 years ago.

While the state had the All-State Chorus and Orchestra at that time, it was only a two-day event, and it involved approximately 1,000 members.

"We felt that we needed to give some of our students a better opportunity to really dig into the music and sing with a group of people who all are as highly-motivated as they are," Stanga said.

Holdhusen said it was a great decision, since "this was something the state really needed at that time, and continues to need now. (The committee's) vision and their putting this forth every year is a really great thing for vocal musicians in the state of South Dakota."

Every five years an anniversary program is held for the alumni of the honor choir, and as next year is the 40th anniversary, plans are already underway to ensure its success.

"We're in the process of notifying those people and inviting them to come back," Stanga said. "When we did our 35th anniversary we had 150 or so alumni come back, and they had a wonderful time.

"One of the people that I know is a doctor, and he said, 'There's only one thing wrong with this reunion choir – we don't do it every year,'" Stanga said. "He loved the experience, and I don't know anyone that didn't love the experience."

Gackle said she hopes this week will encourage all of the choir members to make music a part of their lives.

"It's a basic part of the human experience," she said. "It's something they do well, and it's something they've been gifted to do, and it can be a part of the rest of their lives, whether they become doctors or lawyers or music teachers."

Tickets for tonight's performance are $10 for general admission seating, and will go on sale beginning at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, contact the USD Department of Music at (605) 677-5274.

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