Choir students, teachers share unique bond

Choir students, teachers share unique bond
Posted on 03/18/2019
Cynthia Wieland can’t help but tear up when she thinks about three of her students who will graduate in May. Wieland, the new theatre teacher at Arlington High School, taught choir at Bon Lin Middle School for many years. It’s where she met students Caroline Morath, Matthew Reber and Jessica White, 7th graders at the time who were just beginning their musical journey.

“They started as timid, little performers who could barely move on stage,” Wieland laughed. “We also had to work through some voice changes,” she said with a quick glance and smirk towards Matthew. “It’s just been amazing to see the young adults they have grown into.”

Caroline will be the first to admit that Wieland did not take it easy on them, even as 13-year old’s just learning to perform on stage. “She pushed us hard. She made sure that we were hitting the notes, and if we didn’t, she would make us start again,” Caroline said. “She even made us practice in front of our peers to make us get used to a crowd. She was tough, but it was all for good reason.”

Wieland knew the talent before her, so she encouraged them (or forced them, they joked) toGroup of people talk to each other audition for the Tennessee Junior & Senior High Honors Chorus, a competitive and prestigious choir group that represents the best of the best in the region. The auditions are no joke.

Students have two months to learn six to seven musical pieces. When it comes time to audition, the judges assign a random part from three of the pieces for the student to perform. “You have to know every part and every note of every single song, whether you end up singing it or not,” Jessica explained. “You have to actively set time aside every single day to practice.” One round of the auditions even requires sight-singing, which is the ability to read and sing music at first sight.

Getting in is not easy, and the number of admissions each year prove it. Only 240 out of about 1,200 make the honors chorus each year. More impressively, Caroline, Matthew and Jessica are part of an elite class to not only make it once but six times in their vocal career. This feat is called the Six-Year Award, given only to those who make the honors chorus each year from 7th to 12th grade – about six singers a year.

“It never gets easier,” Matthew laughed. “But I learned something new every time I auditioned and performed with the choir.”

“I think doing it that first year in middle school was so important because it really cemented my passion for music,” Caroline added. “It was my first experience singing music with that many people in one room. It was a really transformative experience.”

That experience also created a unique bond between the three students. After Bon Lin Middle School, they all transferred to Arlington High School, where Choir Director Jeffrey Chipman currently leads them. “I remember all three of their freshmen auditions largely because their musical abilities stood out,” Chipman said. “When I heard these sparks of talent, I immediately thought about what I could do with them over the four years.”

Chipman said their crafts only got better over the years and made them even more competitive at the honors chorus. “They’re doing it better than I ever did at their age,” Chipman said. “They challenge me to do and be better and stay on top of things.

WielandSince 7th grade, the three students have had either Chipman or Wieland as choir teachers, so it all came full circle when Wieland took a job this year at AHS as the theatre director. As a teacher, Wieland explained, you’re expected to pass on knowledge to your students, but sometimes you can learn from them too.

“They’ve made me better and more compassionate,” Wieland said. “They’ve helped me realize that it’s important to know them outside of academics and learn any struggles and fears they may have. They’ve helped me understand how important it is to teach the whole child and not just the one sitting in my classroom.”
Caroline, Matthew and Jessica will soon face new adventures. For the first time in seven years, someone other than Wieland and Chipman will teach them music. 

Caroline is auditioning to be a musical theatre major. She’s applied to 19 universities and will choose a school next month. Matthew plans to major in vocal performance at one of the six schools he’s applied to. Meanwhile, Jessica has been accepted to MTSU, where she’ll major in speech pathology and audiology and minor in music education.

Though their paths are different, the three said they’re grateful for the times they shared together in music - even the growing pains and those grueling rehearsals.

“We all share this amazing passion for music,” Matthew said. “Music, especially by being in the honors chorus, brought us and kept us all together.”