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Dallas draws in Hays High singers

4/2/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Good friends since elementary school, four Hays High School juniors decided to audition for a national honor choir last semester.

Wouldn't a trip to Dallas together, a week before spring break in March, be great?

They barely gave a thought to what would happen if one or more of them wouldn't make it. They thought they would deal with those emotions when the time came.

They didn't have to.

Molly Barnett, Amy Jordan, Shelby Matlock and Megan Zeman, who have been in performance music groups together since sixth grade at Felten Middle School, all were chosen to participate in the choir at the American Choral Directors Association national conference last month.

It was a trip of a lifetime, said the students, whose parents all were on hand to watch the final concert.

Matlock's dad got even more out of the trip. Johnny Matlock is director of choral music at Hays High, and he thinks the experience will help not only the students who participated but also their classmates.

"The expectations were so high there," Johnny Matlock said of the national conference. "What they learned, they can bring back to our choir here."

His daughter agreed.

"We learned so much from the clinicians," Shelby Matlock said, "something we can bring home to our choir."

"I think it will make me a more competent choir member," her father said.

Johnny Matlock said there have been students who qualified to participate at the national conference in the past, but this is the first time since he returned to Hays High three years ago after teaching at the middle school level for eight years.

One reason for not even auditioning for nationals isn't because Matlock doesn't think he has quality singers. But in these times of school budget cuts, location of such events play a big role in what events students can attend, as well as timing.

Spring semester is chock-full of music events for Hays High students, including the annual dinner show in May.

"The date, the distance, other commitments, all that went into the decision," he said. "Being in Dallas, we could drive, being right before spring break was good. It all fell into place, so we decided to (audition)."

Matlock also thought each singer in this particular group had a good shot at making the cut for the concert, even though only 300 are chosen from the pool of 3,600 that audition.

Barnett is an alto I and Matlock a soprano I, while Jordan and Zeman are soprano IIs. All four are members of the Chamber Singers, Hays High's select vocal and performance group, and all take private voice lessons at Fort Hays State University.

"They all have very good instruction from their private voice lessons down at Fort Hays," Johnny Matlock said. "(FHSU instructors) Ivalah Allen and Joseph Perniciaro helped coach the girls, too. This is a great thing for them as well."

The students recorded their auditions online in October, and Matlock kept a close eye on the choral association's website that posted the results in November.

Each student who auditioned was assigned a particular number, and one day when the girls walked into class, the list of numbers was up on the large screen.

"I had looked them up beforehand, so I knew," Matlock said with a smile. "But I had them look to see if they could find their number."

The girls were ecstatic they would be a foursome traveling to Dallas. But they also knew they had a lot of work ahead of them.

"You have to know your music prior to getting there; if you don't, you don't participate," Johnny Matlock said. "The girls worked hard beforehand, and we were rehearsing going down in the Suburban.

"That's the level of expectation from down there, and I think it will (resonate) back here."