By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
When 37 members of the Havre High School A Cappella Choir decided to sing at the Eastern Washington Music Educators Large Group Choir Festival last week, they knew they would be singing with some bigger schools.
The three-day event in Spokane, Wash., drew about 70 choirs from high schools, middle schools, and even a few elementary schools.
Havre High had requested permission to attend the festival and was welcomed, the only choir in attendance not from Washington.
Some of the schools that attended the festival dwarf Havre High with enrollments of more than 2,000 students - enough to bring two choirs in some cases. Havre High has about 670 students.
Havre High's first time singing at the festival was likely to be a humbling experience.
After the choir sang its 20-minute repertoire of three songs on Thursday afternoon and then went to the judging table, it was told that not only did it receive a "superior" rating, but it was one of the only choirs at the festival to receive the highest possible rating, a "1+." It was the second-to-last choir to perform.
The festival, though not a direct competition, had three judges ranking each choir based on a 100-point scale to evaluate 10 factors, including intonation, pitch and blend. The HHS choir received an average total score of 93.
"For Havre to have got a 1+, they basically had to get 9s and 10s in every category, so they were phenomenal," said Randy Fink, vice president in charge of choral activities for the association and organizer of the festival. Fink said he thinks only two other schools received a 1+.
"I was really pleased," said HHS choir director Frank Payne. "They have worked hard. I had no idea they would score that high. There were some really big schools over there."
"(The judges) said they were really impressed," said HHS choir officer Carrie Flatau.
"They said for the difficulty of the music we were doing really well," agreed Alicia Rundquist, also a choir officer.
"I was kind of surprised because I didn't know what we sounded like and I heard the recording after the concert and it kind of blew me away," Rundquist said.
The choir members hope the recording will be their ticket to sing at the American Choral Directors Association's Northwest Division Convention in Boise, Idaho, next March. The festival selects choirs from a six-state region, including Montana.
The choir will send in one of their three songs from last week's festival, as well as a song from each of the previous two years.
Payne said the last time he took a choir to the Northwest Division Convention was in 1984.
He is optimistic about their chances for next year. "I've had some really good (choirs), but this one is right up there with the very best," said Paine, who has taught choir at HHS for 22 years.
First, though, the choir will use the momentum from this performance to try to wow Montana judges when it attends the District 7 Music Festival April 11-12 in Shelby. It will be judged on a scale similar to the one used in Spokane.
"I think it's a good burst of confidence for us because now we know what we sound like - as long as we don't get too cocky," Rundquist said.
The festival was not the only event of the choir's trip last week. It also sang with the Gonzaga University choir on Thursday, sang for the Cheney High School choir in Cheney, Wash., on Friday, and sang in a concert with Gonzaga Prep School in Spokane on Saturday before returning to Havre on Sunday.
The choir paid for the four-day trip to Washington by selling fruit, cheese and coupon books.