YORK COUNTY — Some of the students in Clover High School’s award-winning Choraliers seem to agree on one thing — singing in the choral program is about a lot more than just music.
It’s a life-changing experience.
Senior Krista Kowalczyk, 18, who has been in the program for the past four years, said she was shy before getting involved in the Choraliers. But that has changed. Last year, she sang before an audience of about 5,000 in the Miss South Carolina Teen pageant.
“It’s so cliché to say it,” Krista said. “But it definitely brought me out of my shell so I’m more confident as a person.
“It’s allowed me to meet people who are not just like me. I have talents that I didn’t know I have, and I’ve really come into myself . . .The Choraliers has enabled me to do everything I’ve been able to do in my life.”
Will Vowell, a 17-year-old junior, said his involvement in Choraliers made him realize he wants to become a college choral director. “It made me want to do it for the rest of my life,” he said.
And freshman Craig Lucas, 14, also feels pride in finding his strengths. “Winning state (competition) this year made me realize that something I contributed to was successful,” he said.
The students say winning awards isn’t the most important thing about being in the Choraliers, a program that has established a strong record at choral competitions for almost a dozen years.
And this year, they’ve done it again. Clover’s 116-member Choraliers — along with three choral groups at York Comprehensive High School — were honored last month when they ran away with top honors among 4A schools at the S.C. State Choral Festival.
The Choraliers placed first for stage performance — marking the ninth time in 11 years the group has taken the championship at the S.C. Music Educators’ Association event. The group also receive a superior in sight singing, with five minutes to rehearse an original piece.
Three YCHS choral groups also competed and placed well. The 21-member York Chamber Choir placed fourth out of 32 choirs and second in the sight singing. The 60-member Una Voce women’s choir placed third in sight singing. Both groups and the 44-member Concert Choir received superior ratings.
“York and Clover took half of the awards given for the state, which I think says a lot for York County — and especially our little corner of York County,” said Phil Suggs, choral director at YCHS.
Suggs said that York choral groups have had a successful year in many other ways, too. They put a school record of 18 students in All-State Choirs, he said. And they also placed first, for the third consecutive year, in the Lander University Choral Festival in February.
Clover Choralier member Will Vowell said the honors are just frosting on the cake.
“It’s not so much winning state, although that’s a huge accomplishment,” he said. “It’s the way we make music. If everyone is involved, it’s going to be a good year.”
Madalyn Thomas, a 17-year-old junior who has wanted to be in the Choraliers since she attended performances as a child, said the students simply enjoy performing. “You want to feel the light hit your face,” she said. “It’s like playing a sport; it’s what we’re good at.”
She said the students do a lot of things together. “Once you leave the Choraliers, you don’t find anything else like this,” she said. “You won’t find the little brothers and sisters you have here anywhere else.”
Aside from having good students who work hard, Forrest and Suggs attributed a large part of their groups’ successes to a strong instructional emphasis on music literacy. Forrest said students learn to sing music in different keys and have hand signs for each pitch.
“Paul and I are both big on kids learning to read music, so they can be lifelong musicians,” he said.
But he also said that there are other ingredients to success. Seniors serve in leadership roles, he said, adding he held three different three-hour sessions with his rising seniors during the summer.
One of their topics, he said, was how to break up cliques that can make some students feel excluded. “It all comes from the senior class — if the senior class works hard to make everyone feel welcome,” he said.
Forrest said he puts a lot of emphasis on making sure the students work well together to make a successful program.
“I spend more time thinking about the psychological and motivational than I do the music,” Forrest said. “Because just when I think I’ve got teenagers figured out, along come a different group of seniors.”
Both York and Clover groups are back into rehearsals, preparing the spring shows for the community.
The Choraliers are preparing for their spring show, “Miss Saigon,” to be presented May 2, 4 and 5 at the Clover School District Auditorium. Tickets go on sale at 2 p.m. April 25 at the box office.
The YCHS spring choral show, at 7 p.m. May 16, will be a medley from “Annie,” and “Oliver.” Admission is $4 at the door.
Aksi both groups plan spring trips. The YCHS Concert Choir is traveling to Washington, D.C., for spring break this week to give some impromptu performances and tour the sights, Suggs said. Suggs said the group has a D.C. trip every third year so students have a chance to visit.
The Choraliers are headed to Orlando, Fla., in May.
Krista said the Choraliers’ accomplishments haven’t come easily — which makes them that much more valuable.
“We have worked so hard,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for anything in my life, and that’s saying something. I’m definitely going to cry when I graduate because of this.”