MODESTO — Johansen High School last weekend hosted a California Music Educators Association Bay Section choral festival for the Modesto area and beyond. The festival included eight schools: Johansen, Hughson, Downey, Enochs and Linden high schools, as well as Hickman Community Charter (kindergarten through eighth grade) and Blaker Kinser and Mae Hensley junior highs. The schools sent 15 choirs to compete.
The festival is meant to develop students' musicianship through the use of ratings and clinics. It was scheduled a year in advance, and Modesto's Johansen picked as the site because of the convenience of the school's setup.
"The facilities we have here at Johansen are ideal for this sort of a situation" said Ulices Chavez, area representative for the California Music Educators Association.
The weeks of planning included the choir directors selecting the music their groups sing.
"I wanted a variety of styles and time periods," says Mary Anne Vlach, director of the Downey High choral program.
Said Jennifer Champeaux, director of the Johansen High program, "I have to like the piece or else I can't convince my choir that it is worthy."
Members of the choirs work long hours to perfect the music and hone their skills.
"We prepare by doing daily sight reading and making sure they know all of their music," Champeaux said. "We also bring in many well-educated guests to come in and work with the choirs so they know what it feels like to be adjudicated."
At the event, choirs are rated on quality of sound, technique, musicality and other factors, such as choice of music, the group's attentiveness and its appearance.
Overall, the choirs can receive one of five ratings: unanimous superior, superior, excellent, good or fair. A unanimous superior rating means each judge has given the choir a superior rating for performance, and the choir has received a superior rating in the sight-reading portion of the competition.
"Probably the most important thing we look for is the music being presented in a meaningful way," said Colleen Snyder, head adjudicator for the festival. "In other words, we call that musicality so that we feel some kind of emotion or understand what the music is trying to portray."
Snyder has a doctorate in choral literature and conducting and is a professor at Reedley College southeast of Fresno.
Two of the 15 choirs that participated received the unanimous superior rating: the Johansen High School Valkyrie Voices intermediate choir and the Johansen High School Viking Singers advanced a cappella ensemble. Two received superior ratings: the Hickman intermediate choir and the Downey High School Madrigals advanced choir.
What makes a California Music Educators Association festival special, Chavez said, are "the resources we have in terms of professional musicians, and highly qualified music educators in the area really lend themselves well in terms of quality judges and clinics."
Added Snyder, festival adjudicator, "It is something for them to work towards. If they don't have a performance coming up, they won't work as hard. For many of these schools, they try to have a tradition built up that they have high rankings at these festivals and they want to maintain that tradition. It is important to inspire the kids to say, 'We can do this.' "
Geraldine Ramirez, a senior at Johansen High School and the co-president for Johansen choirs, said, "We work as a team and we are more focused and more on task. We were also better prepared to take criticism and not be so hurt about it."
For many students, the state Music Educators Association provides a way to measure where they are and where they still need to go.
"It gives them a rating scale, which is something that you normally don't receive in the performing arts due to its subjective nature," Vlach said.
School choir directors who wish to participate in the CMEA festival next year should visit www.cmeabaysection.org for more information.
Haley Smith is a sophomore at Johansen High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom Program.