Student Spotlight |

Student Spotlight

Eight Rifle High School students will sing in the All-State Choir in Denver: Colby Rennie, Brett Christensen, Brinley Berrett, Kelly Coombs, Cheyanne Whaley, Austin Kennedy, Moses Guillen, and Miguel Hermosillo.
Courtesy of Rifle High School |

“We all love music,” said Rifle High School senior Cheyanne Whaley of herself and the seven classmates surrounding her.

The eight RHS juniors and seniors comprise the largest contingent of students that earned Colorado High School Athletic and Activities (CHSAA) All-State Choir honors in the school’s history, topping last year’s group by one.

Now the work really begins for Brett Christensen, Colby Rennie, Miguel Hermosillo, Moses Guillen, Austin Kennedy, Brinley Berrett, Kelly Coombs and Whaley as they prepare for the All-State choir concert Feb. 5-7 in Denver. There, they will join voices with All-State choir students from around the state and learn from conductors from around the nation, including Associate Director of Choirs at the University of Michigan Dr. Eugene Rogers, Director of the Yale Glee Club Jeffrey Douma and Michigan State University Women’s Chorale Conductor Sandra Snow.

As part of their All-State audition, students can achieve a total score of 100 points. Students must perform a musical solo, typically a classical or folk song. Jazz, pop and musical theater songs are not permitted. Judges are looking for tone quality, singing in tune, accuracy of the notes and rhythms, diction and musicality — the vocal dynamics, sensitivity to text and articulation to convey the appropriate meaning. The solo is worth a total of 50 points.

Students can also receive 50 points for their technical skills, including tonality in their scales, intervals and melodic and rhythmic sight-reading.

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Only juniors and seniors can participate in the auditions, and all singers compete on the same level — there are no breakouts by school size like in athletic divisions. It takes that many years of musical instruction, said Berrett, to prepare for the rigor of the All-State auditions.

“It’s not like you can just pick up some of these skills quickly,” she explained. “When you perform at All-State, it is a culmination of everything that you have learned up to that point.”

“You can’t measure the amount of time that it has taken us to practice for All-State,” added Hermosillo. “I began singing my freshman year, and we are always practicing, always singing. Every note that we sing has been preparing us for the All-State auditions.”

Rifle High School choir director Daryl Gingrich has ingrained a culture of continuous improvement in his students and notes that there is a lot of support for music students in the district.

“The students know the expectations and work very hard,” he said. “The expectation is not to make all state but to better yourself as a musician.

“Vickie Hamilton, our piano accompanist, has worked very hard with the students. [Rifle High School Principal] Todd Ellis is very supportive of students being involved in music and other high school activities, and Garfield Re-2 has not cut our elementary and middle school programs. All-State now has enough data to show that districts that have made cuts to music programs at younger levels have lowered the success rate of students at secondary levels.”

Above and beyond the large group of All-State selections, senior Austin Kennedy earned the highest score in the state with 99 out of 100.

“This year I felt more confident,” Kennedy said. “Last year, my solo was a struggle for me. This year, I felt my solo was easier to perfect.”

“Austin has a very strong work ethic,” added Gingrich. “He establishes goals and does not stop working until he achieves them.“

All eight are now anxiously awaiting the five to seven pieces of music that they must learn and memorize prior to February. They will then take part in a second audition to be sure that they have prepared well. Finding the time will be a challenge as this comes on top of a full load of advanced classes for some, participation in band and jazz band for others.

“They can and will send you home if you haven’t prepared well enough,” said Whaley.

The RHS Bears know what an honor this is for them and their school.

“I was so excited when I learned that I made All-State,” said Guillen. “It means that you are one of the best singers in the state.”

“I feel proud to be a part of something like this,” added Berrett. “It’s a great accomplishment, and I get to share it with all of these guys.”

They are all appreciative of the support that Gingrich and Hamilton have provided to them both in class and as part of the audition process.

All eight wish to pursue music when they leave Rifle High School. Rennie is headed to the Marines but would like to keep musical theater in his future. Christensen is just fascinated by music in general but hasn’t decided on a distinct career path, while Coombs and Guillen are considering a career teaching music.

Berrett will be studying vocal performance with an emphasis in opera studies, and Kennedy hopes to find a balance between vocal performance and architecture. Whaley sees music in her future through her church and being a worship leader.

Finally, music has completely changed Hermosillo’s thoughts about the future.

“Once I got to high school and began choir, I have just sailed that way,” he said. “I used to be all about sports, but I picked up a guitar, and I play it every day. I want to major in music, teach music, build guitars and think about a career in culinary arts as well.”

The entire Rifle High School choir will perform at 7 p.m. on Dec. 15 at Rifle High School.

“The entire choir is filled with students who work very hard,” said Gingrich. “Some just barely missed the cutoff mark for All-State. Others just chose to not audition. I am very blessed to work with the talented staff of Garfield Re-2 and appreciate all of the support that the parents and the community give to these students.”

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