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Congrats to Middle School Chorus

The Athens Academy Middle School chorus recently scored an overall “excellent rating” in the Choral Large Group Performance Evaluation at Jackson County High School. Here, chorus director Leslie Setzer discusses the event and its significance.

The Athens Academy Middle School chorus performing. Photo from the Athens Academy Facebook page.

Large Group Performance is sponsored by the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA) and is offered throughout the state according to district. We compete in district 14, and our LGPE event is held at Jackson County High School in Jefferson. Schools from all over the district are assigned performance times over a three-day period. Each choral group performs two choral selections, which must be chosen from a “standard choral literature” list that does not include pop, Broadway, rock and roll, etc. The directors choose two pieces based on their group’s voice parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and their students’ current level of ability. There are three judges who evaluate the groups in the categories, which include tone (quality, breath support, vowel placement, focus), pitch (accuracy and intonation), rhythmic accuracy (precision, energy, attacks, releases), ensemble (balance, blend), diction (vowel purity, consonant clarity, articulation), interpretation (tempo, style, phrasing, dynamics) and other factors (choice of music appropriate for the age and make-up of the group, stage presence).

This event is significant because students have the opportunity to perform for evaluation, which is a great motivator to work diligently to score a high mark! The ratings are “superior,” “excellent,” “good,” and “fair.” Naturally, everyone strives to achieve a superior rating! It’s not a competition between the schools per se but a competition against a standard. The other significant factor in this event is that the students, when not on stage performing, become the audience for each other and have the chance to hear other schools perform, which is an invaluable learning experience! By observing and listening to other groups, they have a comparison model for what they need to do in order to improve, and again, this provides motivation to work hard to become more polished and successful musically.

We performed “Sing for Joy,” an arrangement by Linda Spevacek based on a work by G.F. Handel, a Baroque composer. Our other selection was “Something Told the Wild Geese” by Sherri Porterfield. These pieces were rated as a medium level of difficulty, which is a typical level for middle school groups. Although we received “superior: on some of the above mentioned criteria, the overall average was an “excellent”!

After performing, the chorus is then escorted to a rehearsal room where they are required to sing a short piece by sight. In other words, they must sing a piece they’ve never seen before and use their music reading skills to sing the excerpt as correctly as possible after having 5 minutes to individually practice and figure out the intervals, rhythms, etc. We scored an “excellent” in that category as well!

Upon our return to school, we listen to the recording of our performance, read the judges’ comments, and utilize this feedback to make adjustments. It is a valuable learning experience to perform under pressure and have instant positive feedback as well as suggestions for improvements. Plus, it’s fun!

This is our third year participating in LGPE, and we have scored two “superiors” and an “excellent” in performance and three “excellents” in sight-reading. We had a few issues with intonation in our performance this year, and are working to make corrections. I am extremely proud of all of my students who have worked so hard in preparation for this event. Next year, I have no doubts that this young, developing group, along with potential new members, will once again give their all to achieve our best! It’s a win-win!