By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – Out of thousands of applicants, only a few hundred were chosen.
The National Association for Music Education hosted the All-National Honor Ensembles event in Nashville in late October, and high school students from across the country applied.
Two of those chosen for the choir were from Lee County: Caitlin Gardner, a sophomore at Tupelo High School, and Phillip Sutton, a senior at Mooreville High School. Students also could apply to be a part of the All-National Band, Jazz and Orchestra.
To be considered, students had to be a part of the All-State choir, which both of them were, and they had to send in audition videos of their best songs from All-State.
“Caitlin took the initiative,” said Gardner’s music teacher, Debbie Bullock. “She worked on the types of pieces she sang at state, sent in (her audition) and, surprise, surprise.”
Sutton, Gardner and a student from the Jackson area were the only three students from the state who made it to the national choir.
All of the preparation for All-State and All-Nationals is done outside of the classroom. Music teachers will help and offer advice, but as for practicing every day and learning the pieces, that’s up to the student. They had a few days of rehearsal ahead of the performance.
“Fourteen-hour days,” Sutton, 17, said of rehearsals. “Mostly you go in and sing for a really long time.”
Sutton’s music teacher, Melissa Epps, is also his mother, but she said he worked on most of the pieces of music himself.
The level of difficulty increased from state to national, she said.
“Some of the songs were in Greek, so we were trying to figure out how to sing in Greek,” she said.
The choir was under the direction of award-winning composer Rollo Dilworth.
Sutton and Gardner said they learned a lot at nationals and found new friends among other high school musicians.
“I made a lot of friends from the East Coast,” Gardner said, and listed off several more parts of the country.
Sutton’s a senior so he can’t try out for All-National, but he’ll try for All-State this winter.
Sutton had advice for anyone who wanted to make it to the national level: “Stay on pitch. Have round vowels, and don’t hesitate.”
Gardner, 16, will try for both levels of choir.
“Singing is everything to me,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”