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Choir, band compete with west coast schools at Cal Poly and Heritage festivals

After months of practice, the start of spring signals competition season for Fresno Christian’s music department. While the choral departments, representing one third of high schoolers at FCS, traveled to the Cal Poly Central Coast Spring Choral Festival in San Luis Obispo on March 22, both band and choir will attend the 2019 Worldstrides Heritage Festival, April 5-7.

Director Susan Ainley and accompanist Ben Certain lead Fresno Christian’s elementary, junior high, high school choirs, to perform in the 30th choral festival at Cal Poly.

Lindsay Weimer | The Feather Online

Cantiamo choir and women’s ensemble, Bellezza, practice for the Cal Poly and Heritage Festival, March 21. Choir will perform songs including “Esto Les Digo” and “Even when He is Silent.”

Cal Poly, famous for its architecture program, built their 1,286 seat Performing Arts Center 25 years ago. The trip provides students an opportunity to sing in a state-of-the-art venue in front of judges and choir members from throughout California. In addition to helping her choirs prepare for the Heritage Festival, Ainley says she uses the event to influence those listening to FC students’ music.

“I like to choose a song that reflects our mission at FC, so a spiritual or gospel piece is usually in the mix,” Ainley said. “The spiritual that Cantiamo will sing is ‘Daniel’ and it includes movement and clapping, as well as a cool piano solo by Mr. [Ben] Certain. Women’s Ensemble has a stunning acapella piece entitled ‘Even when He is Silent’, which divides into 8 part harmony.”

Hayden Trevino, ’22, attended the Cal Poly trip twice before, but this was his first trip as part of the high school choir. He recognizes the benefits festival brings for the team.

“Singing in a choir at Cal Poly gives you more confidence, especially for a festival,” Trevino said. “It gives you a new level of, ‘I could do this.’ People congratulate you for your singing.”

Though not the only performance of the year for choir, the Heritage Festival is the only event in which Cantiamo and Women’s Ensemble compete against other groups. Choirs and bands are given scores out of a hundred, and any group that earns at least a 95 receives an invitation to a Heritage Gold Festival in New York city.

However, more than scores, Ainley says she values moments when it becomes apparent the choir believes in what they are singing.

“My favorite part of directing my choirs is that moment when the song takes on a life of its own,” Ainley said. “All the choir members are in the moment and singing not just correct notes, but with great emotion and connectivity. I always say our rehearsals are a conversation, and we all have to decide what we are trying to say to the audience.”

As with choir, the Heritage Festival is the largest competition in which FC Band performs. Director of FC Band and Percussion Lesley Bannister views the chance to compete against larger schools as an advantage rather than a downside for her band members.

“With Heritage, it’s really great to be part of a national music festival, so that we can see how we stack up against schools,” Bannister said. “We typically are one of the smaller schools, so it’s always fun to go and play for the bigger schools and for the students to get hear what a band of a 100 people sounds like, because we’re about 20. It’s great to expose them to that and compete and challenge themselves.”

Julia Fikse | The Feather Online

Band prepares for their upcoming performances with weekly rehearsals.

Band has prepared three pieces for the event, including “St. Petersburg March” and “Black Forest Overture“. Their final piece, “A Flight of Fancy,” features a flute solo by Ellen Scully, ’21. In addition to six years of experience on the flute, Scully plays piano and cello. She says enjoys the challenge in the music chosen by Bannister.

“I love playing the flute because it is challenging and one of the hardest instruments to play,” Scully said. “I learn something new everyday. This year in band has been so fun and I am excited to show off all the hard work that we have been putting in over the semester.”

In addition to performing, choir and band will spend a day at Disneyland during their trip. After the Heritage Festival, both groups will perform at graduation, May 23.

Stay tuned for updates about band’s trip to Hawaii next school year.

For more articles, read CSPA Convention 2019 recap and Choices: Teen pressures, substance abuse contribute to health issues, social misconceptions. Be sure to read Braden Bell’s 2017 article on the Worldstrides Heritage Festival in Anaheim.

Bryce Foshee can be reached via Twitter @brycer_f and via email.

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