By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The McNary High School choir may not have repeated as state champs last weekend – they took second – but it’s hard to imagine any choir could show more character as a runner-up.
The Celtics finished a mere four points behind the top choir in the land, Sprague High School and four points ahead of the third place finisher, South Salem High School.
“I feel lucky to be part of this choir and in the Salem-Keizer School District, because the schools in our district did so well,” said Kayla Ellis, a McNary senior. “The connection between each choir was different and we were all a lot better because we had that connection. It says something about our music programs.”
After taking first at the district competition, McNary scrapped most of its winning line-up in favor of new material, including one composed by senior Jesus Gomez. Traditionally, the set has ended with a raucous spiritual and, when they didn’t last weekend, it threw the audience for a loop.
“Everyone was like, they didn’t sing a spiritual, what do we do?” said Bret Goesch.
What the audience did was give the choir a standing ovation.
“I’ve never felt better about the songs that we picked,” said senior Rudy Trevino. “We had a song written by one of our members that proved we could be a quiet choir, a song that’s really fast and loud that proved how big we could be and a song commissioned for us that tapped into our Celtic pride.”
The opportunity to perform at state competition one last time was the perfect capstone for a choir that’s gone from placing sixth in state as freshmen to second, to first and now second again, said Trevor Braun.
“I felt confident that we were giving the best performance of any choir out there,” he said. “During the performance, I felt a sense of really getting into the music and that we’d left everything on the stage.”
“There’s this shaking you feel in your chest and in everyone around you,” said Alex Gerber.
After initial performances, McNary was leading the pack, but the “epic” performance took some of the wind out of the sails as they headed into sight readings where the choir must sing a piece of music they’ve never seen before.
“It was insanely emotional,” said senior Chloe Turnbull. “Everybody was crying as we realized that this was the last time we were going to perform like that.”
Points lost in the sight reading left the Celts in second at the end of the day.
“We stumbled a lot but we kept pushing through. Just the energy it takes to perform takes a lot out of you,” Ellis added.
A point of pride for many members of the choir is that each had a hand in their success this year.
When director Jim Taylor fell ill the day before they were to perform at district competition, members of the choir stepped up and led the team to success.
“Growing with this choir is quite an experience,” said Jacob Cordie. “Knowing I put a lot of work into it and that it had a good result means a lot.”
The work is what’s deceptive, said Ellis.
“Everyone thinks that you take choir and it’s just this easy thing, but this is the class that takes up all my time and energy. It’s also the one that give me the most self-esteem,” she said.
The key was realizing exactly what they are capable of, Trevino said.
“When Mr. Taylor was sick, we realized we can still teach ourselves our own music. We don’t rely on one teacher or five students, we rely on each other to push us through every day,” he said.
In more than one way, the students drive to push each other is what has kept them engaged in school and life itself.
“High school has not been my favorite place to come for many reasons,” said Turnbull. “Choir is the reason I come to school. If I miss it, I hate it. If I don’t sing, I hate it. To be honest, sometimes I feel like it might have saved my life.”
While the things they’ll carry forward beyond high school and into future years of success differ for each student, Goesch reiterated the success of friends at other schools.
“State is an incredible opportunity to see and work alongside all these other choirs we never get a chance to be around, but we want to congratulate and celebrate our friends at Sprague and South and West Salem High School, who took sixth,” he said.
However, the Celts also have a warning that comes hand-in-hand with the warm fuzzies.
“We’re also pissed off and we’re looking for revenge next year,” said junior Kelly Cowan.