SEQUIM — Some have been singing nearly all their young lives; others, just the past couple of years.
Five Sequim High School students have in common, however, a passion for vocal excellence and an opportunity to sing in one of the most prestigious venues in the world for both classical music and popular music.
The quintet of Sequim singers each qualified to take part in the Honors Performance Festival at New York’s Carnegie Hall in February after earning state and regional honors, getting a formal recognition from SHS choir Director John Lorentzen and had to record an Italian aria or art song.
Lorentzen said he received a letter from the Honors Performance Festival asking him to submit candidates from Sequim’s choral department for the High School Honors Performance Series set for Feb. 2-6.
“I kind of created my own rubric if you will and I nominated 10; five decided to go for it,” Lorentzen said.
All five who tried out — seniors Thomas Arnesen, Silas Baird, Colleen Carpenter, Victoria Hall and junior Tomi Wilson — were accepted.
Soon after, Lorentzen wrote to fellow Sequim school staffers: “This is an outstanding accomplishment. To give you some perspective of the likelihood of this happening, please consider this: At my former high school in Nevada, 20-plus students auditioned for a similar honors event and only one was selected.”
The festival, set for early February, gives most of the students the opportunity to work with Honors Concert Choir director Edith Copley from Northern Arizona University, whom Lorentzen says is one of the most sought-after conductors and clinicians in the country.
Hall and Carpenter are no strangers to Carnegie, however. The students were part of the more than 40-member Sequim High School select choir who made the trek to the New York City venue in 2014.
“One of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had,” Hall said. “Just being in New York, especially as a freshman.”
“And that was just [singing with] students from the U.S.,” Carpenter said. “This is students from all over the world.”
Wilson, who unlike the four other Sequim students, will perform in the women’s choir in February, said she enjoyed working on the Italian piece she submitted to the Honors Performance Festival organization.
“It was an opportunity to explore what my voice can do. It was a little tough learning a language, a challenge, but worth it,” she said.
Wilson said her interest in music started in fifth grade when she began teaching herself piano through YouTube videos.
She joined the choir as a seventh-grader at Sequim Middle School, and worked under Lorentzen’s tutelage.
“[He] opened my eyes to that and I’ve stuck with [singing] since,” Wilson said. “I was good at it. I figured I better stick with it.”
Lorentzen said that he allows eighth-graders an opportunity to shine with “Show Off Friday,” where students can bring in pop songs or do karaoke.
“At first I thought, ‘What a tremendous waste of time.’ But I learned more about my students than anything I could have asked them,” Lorentzen said.
That made an impression on Wilson, who said the practice allowed her to feel better about singing in front of classmates.
“I got more and more comfortable … singing in front of my peers,” Wilson said.
“I just love music; it’s my happy place.”
Carpenter said she started singing as a fifth-grader in her church choir, then with the school choir in eighth grade.
“I prefer operatic and classical music,” she said. “I plan to [study that] next year in school.”
Hall said she’s been singing and dancing her entire life but got her start in music via band, not choir.
The former trumpet player said it was Lorentzen’s daughter who convinced her to try out for SHS’s select choir.
Baird is an erstwhile band player as well. A former trombone player who still plays bass guitar, Baird moved to the Sequim area in eighth grade. It wasn’t until his junior year in high school that he serendipitously picked up the choral bug.
“He was in band and one day he came to tell me something,” Lorentzen recalled. “I heard his speaking voice. I said, ‘Wow, do you sing?’ He said, ‘I can, but I’m in band.’ I said, ‘You should [sing].’ Such a rich, resonant voice. I was blown away.”
Later that year, Baird took second place and superior rating at the Washington state solo and ensemble competition for his solo bass performance of “O Isis und Osiris” (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and “Honor and Arms” (George Frideric Handel).
Arnesen was in band as well, learning the alto saxophone before he made the switch to choir.
In his sophomore year, he was playing piano for Lorentzen when the teacher encouraged Arnesen to join the choir.
A year later, as a junior, Arnesen took second in a regional solo competition and as a senior he sings with the 16-member vocal ensemble.
“I wasn’t even aware of it,” before receiving an invitation to try out at Lorentzen’s request, Arnesen said of the Honors Performance Festival.
With an eye on joining the U.S. Marines after his senior year, Arnesen said he was challenged a bit by the Italian piece he submitted.
“I had trouble with the pronunciations and getting the breathing right,” he said.
“[But] I enjoy singing pieces in other languages,” he said. “They’re simpler, more beautiful.”
The High School Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall challenges elite students to perform at their best. Students rehearse and perform under master conductors and have the opportunity to perform before representatives from collegiate and professional music programs.
Though much of their time is focused on performance preparation, students also get to experience sights and performance arts in New York City during their stay, including a Broadway show Feb. 3.
“Seeing Manhattan is an education itself,” Lorentzen said. “There’s an excitement and an energy. If you’re serious about the arts, you’re going to be in New York City at some point.”
“And, from a networking standpoint, some of them make friends they keep for a lifetime. It’s a pretty small [performing arts] world, really,” he said.
Students need to raise about $2,500 apiece to attend the series.
To help raise funds for the group, a fundraising website has been set up at www.gofundme.com/send-shs-students-to-NYC.
In addition, Carpenter and Hall said they are selling “Christmas in a Mug” gifts at local bazaars to raise funds.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.