All SHS singers take gold at state ISSMA competition

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

This is the first year in Choir Director Bill Spencer-Pierce's memory that all of his ISSMA vocal competitors who advanced to state took gold medals. Pictured are the state-bound singers: Tirzah Hacker, Erika Harley, Lydia Bontrager, Katie Hobbs. Row 2: Destiny Davis, Kagan Jenkins, Jimmy Gibson, Kiley Gilbert (who was ill during the state competition and couldn't compete) and Meagan Gregerson.

Jimmy Gibson, Erika Harley, Tirzah Hacker, Meagan Gregerson, Lydia Bontrager, Kagan Jenkins, Destiny Davis and Katherin Hobbs, pictured with Director Bill Spencer-Pierce, pose for a photo after being recognized by the school board.

In years past, SHS Choir Director Bill Spencer-Pierce said, he generally had some students take gold in the state vocal ISSMA competition, but there would be some silvers and some bronzes, too. This year, there weren’t any silvers or bronzes. All of the Salem singers took gold, a first in Spencer-Pierce’s recollection, since he started as choir director in the mid-1970s.

“We didn’t tell the kids that afternoon how the scores were coming out,” said Spencer-Pierce. “They come and go with their parents, so they don’t all stay together. We made sure the last two or three didn’t know how we were doing. I didn’t want to put that extra pressure on them.”

Spencer-Pierce gave much of the credit to Debra Stroud of Paoli, and Allison Hall of Bloomington.

“These two women do all the coaching,” he said. “They’re the ones who teach the kids. I choose the music, get them warmed up and give them confidence. I’ve turned them over to them the past couple years. Allison is a former student and she’s probably been working 10 years with me. She’s played for dozens of these kids at district and state. Debra works with the middle schoolers. She is a 40-year veteran choir director.”

Both Stroud and Hall accompany vocal students on the piano during their performances.

“They already know what I think and it’s good for the kids to hear from someone else,” he said. “The kids are the ones doing the work and these ladies coached them. They all worked at it.”

Sophomore Katherin Hobbs has been in choir since sixth grade and has sung at ISSMA for three years — grades 7, 9 and 10.

“It can be stressful,” she said. “There are so many people who look like they could be better than you. You start to think, ‘What am I doing here?’ Then you go into the room with the judges and you just have to give it your best shot.”

She sang, “Come to the Fair,” by Easthope Martin, a song from 1917, beckoning people to attend a fair.

“I was worried,” she said as the time of her performance drew closer. “I was more worried about my piano solo, so I put my vocal solo on the back burner [she played “Graceful Ghost Rag by William Bolcom, written in the early 1970s]. I stopped practicing piano about a week before to practice my vocal number. I took silver in my piano piece. If I’d practiced more, I could have gotten gold in both. I’ll take it as experience for next year.”

She said she was more nervous about finding where she was supposed to be in such a large high school than performing.

“It’s the same as I’ve been doing for years,” she said.

“This year as a whole was exciting,” she said. “The Marching Lions won the state championship [she also performs in the band] and it feels like I’m going from gold to gold. I don’t know how I got to be in such a great group. I’m lucky.”

Sophomore Jimmy Gibson has competed in the Ohio version of ISSMA in the past, and has been competing at ISSMA since he moved here last year. He has been in choir since the fourth grade.

“I like to think of myself as a veteran,” he said. “This song felt different, though; it was more tuned to my voice and dynamics.”

His competition piece was “Cross the Western Ocean,” by Celius Dougherty, a sea chanty where sailors sing about traveling the Atlantic Ocean, leaving home and families and seeking gold and a new life in the New World.

“I was expecting to do well, but as well as I did? No way,” said Gibson. “You have to have some confidence to do this, but I got a 10.5 last year and a 9.5 this year. The smallest number [best score] is a 9, so I was almost perfect.”

He said he was really pleased to be a part of such a talented group.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “Everyone there deserved gold. I think weare all working to be the best in the state. I hope more guys get into it next year and we can score the best in the state.

“If you want to know how good we are, come out to Bohemian Supper Club next year,” he added.

You don’t have to wait until next fall to hear the hard work of the SHS choir.  These musicians will perform their annual Great American Songbook concert at 7:15 p.m., Tuesday, March 10, at the Salem High School Performing Arts Center. Admission is free.


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