MORGANTOWN — Seven high school choir members from Mason County will have the opportunity to work with Grammy-winning composer and conductor Eric Whitacre this month at the inaugural West Virginia University High School Choral Festival.
The festival will be Feb. 20 at the WVU Creative Arts Center in Morgantown.
Ben Browning, of Point Pleasant, will be attending as part of a delegation from the Appalachian Children’s Choir (ACC). In addition, six members of the Wahama High School Choir will be going, including Brooke Vickers, Shelby Gerlach, Heather Grimm, Sydnee Whaley, Brandie Vickers and Alexa Layne.
Browning is a four-year member of ACC, is one of eight from there attending the festival and one of only two boys. He recently returned from attending the West Virginia American Choral Directors Association All-State Conference in Charleston.
Browning and the other ACC participants will be accompanied by Director Selina Midkiff.
The Wahama students will be accompanied by Director Rachel Reynolds. All of the Bend Area participants are members of Wahama’s Tri-M Music Honor Society. Two of those attending, Shelby Gerlach and Heather Grimm, will be trying out for All-State Choir the day before they leave for the festival, according to Reynolds.
Reynolds said she applied to take her students to the WVU festival in August 2015, knowing it would be a popular event that would fill up quickly. Scores were sent to the participants and they have been practicing the music since October.
Because the festival workshops begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, Reynolds said her group will travel to Morgantown on Friday, Feb. 19 and spend the night. The Wahama Choir Boosters are providing the rooms, meals, and cost of the sheet music for the girls.
The students will participate in a festival choir under the direction of Whitacre, performing his pieces, “Sleep” and “The Seal Lullaby.”
Whitacre won the 2012 Grammy for Best Choral Recording with his first album as composer and conductor, titled “Light & Gold.” Recently, the composer has been recognized for conducting the Chinese choir in the last scene of the movie “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which was released Jan. 29, 2016.
Whitacre is composer-in-residence at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, United Kingdom. He has received composition awards from the Barlow International Composition Competition, American Choral Directors Association and the American Composers Forum. His musical, “Paradise Lost,” won the ASCAP Harold Arlen Award and the Richard Rodgers Award, plus 10 nominations at the Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Awards.
Reynolds said Whitacre is probably best known, however, for his “virtual choirs.” She said the composer took videos of people singing his songs in their own homes, assembled them from all over the world, and synchronized them to make a “choir.”
The first virtual choir in 2010 was made up of 185 singers from a dozen different countries, which has been viewed on YouTube over 4 million times. Since that time, Whitacre has done three additional virtual choirs, the latest receiving more than 8,400 submissions from 101 countries. The four virtual choirs have had more than 15 million YouTube views.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing who lives in Mason County.