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County schools join together in harmony

Four Stanly County music teachers are combining talents and corralling students from area high schools to offer an evening of choral music.

Aza Mabry Hudson will direct the program Monday evening at First Baptist Church in Albemarle.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to come together and sing in a bigger choir,” says Hudson.

She expects nearly 80 teenagers will fill the choir loft in this third year for the combined choral group. Hudson has taught vocal music and handbells at North Stanly High School for 23 years, but is equally at home at First Baptist Church in her other job directing the Sunday Sanctuary Choir.

It seems high school music teachers are used to double duty.

Derek Smith, Andrew Warburton and Daniel Cline all came to their respective schools trained as instrumentalists, but in the era of school budget cuts they get to be choral teachers, too.

The men learn as they go and look to each other for support.

“We’re sharing what we know and it’s not about competing and beating each other. We work together,” said Warburton. “Aza has been very supportive, too.”

Smith, music director at West Stanly High School, kept a double time tempo with the WSHS Marching Band’s end of quarter activities, but he’s been getting his choral students tuned up for the concert.

The program will include “Washing of the Water,” originally performed by Peter Gabriel, and Smith will direct the premiere of an arrangement by Makayla Belcher — a former student of Smith’s who is a music education major at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Gaining recognition for their students is something these directors feel strongly about.

“We want to get the community engaged, to see what these students can do. They deserve recognition just as much as athletes. We have to fight for our kids,” said Cline, Albemarle High School music director.

Warburton emphasizes the strenuous nature of musical performance.

“It’s mentally and physically demanding, and that surprises students who are new to the program,” he said.

The academic benefits of playing an instrument or singing are well known by educators.

“Test scores in other subjects go up with consistent musical experience from kindergarten-12th grade,” said Warburton.

He stresses that the key is consistency — not just one year of band or chorus.

Warburton brought 10 of his South Stanly High School choral students to First Baptist for the joint rehearsal on Friday.

They’ve had this music since mid-September and the two-hour combined rehearsal was the first opportunity for working with the other students and directors.

Anyone sitting in on the rehearsal could see how much had been accomplished in little over a month. All the directors readily bragged on their students for working hard.

Some of the diverse music selections for the evening will include patriotic and pop numbers, the Broadway tune “Rhythm of Life,” a traditional Celtic piece “Riversong,” the African words and rhythm of “Changamano” and “Already Home” from “The Wizard of Oz.”

The audience will notice added hand motions and a trumpet accompaniment for depth and variety.

Cline admits the students love to sing popular music because it’s familiar, but regardless of the genre, seeing a student’s individual growth is exciting, he says.

The directors encourage county residents to view the area middle school classes as preparation for high school level achievement.

In this era of lean budgets, this quartet of music educators are committed to building consistency in their programs, and it would help if students were committed to returning to band or chorus every year, they said.

“I believe we are still able to provide a solid performing arts education in Stanly County, even with the cuts,” said Hudson.

Another performance opportunity is coming up on Thursday at Central Auditorium when Albemarle High School Band takes the stage. Cline also says jazz band practices begin soon.

Meantime, the community is invited to Monday’s All-County Choral event which, in the words of Smith, “Will be the coolest vocal music performed all year.”

Jo Grey is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.