By way of the four year cycle, this year was Huntingdon Area High School’s (HAHS) turn to host the annual Huntingdon County Choir Festival. Host director Nin Hiles Jr. and his singers welcomed young singers from across the county with open arms for the 29th anniversary of this festival which took place Nov. 19-20.
A total of 106 singers from Belleville Mennonite School, Juniata Valley High School, Mount Union Area High School, Southern Huntingdon High School, and HAHS put their athletic and academic rivalries aside to join in harmony at the recently dedicated Herbert S. Williams Performing Arts Center in HAHS. They spent months at their individual schools preparing the music and were brought together under a guest conductor just the day before the concert.
This year’s guest conductor was Huntingdon’s own Dr. Russ Shelley of Juniata College. He was also the guest conductor for the festival in 2015, meaning that the freshmen who participated that year had the opportunity to work under him again as this year’s seniors. They even performed two of the same songs from that program through which the seniors from the various schools could reminisce on the first time they sang together three years before.
The guest piano accompanist for this festival was another Huntingdon resident and local music icon, Dr. John Bukowski, professor of math at Juniata College. John has been involved with the music department at Huntingdon in the past, as he has accompanied numerous choir concerts for the Huntingdon Area Middle School. He has also stepped in to direct the Juniata College Concert Choir this semester while Dr. Russ Shelley is on sabbatical. He accompanies concerts for Juniata College alongside Shelley, so the two were well acquainted and worked effortlessly together making for a productive two days of rehearsal.
The concert repertoire for this festival was diverse and gave participants the opportunity to broaden their music knowledge and capabilities. For some students this was their first time performing a piece of music in Spanish and for many it was their first time learning a song in Korean. “Song for the Mira” and “El Cielo Canta Alegria!” were two pieces the seniors knew well, since they sang them at their first county choir festival.
After two days of productive rehearsal, constructive music lessons and a fair share of life lessons from the guest conductor, it was finally time to perform the concert for friends and family alike. The singers started the concert in the aisles of the auditorium from where they sang a Navajo prayer song, “Now I Walk in Beauty,” in a round as they processed toward their places on stage. This was followed by the Korean folk song “Arirang” which featured Huntingdon senior and bass two soloist, Patrick Sweet. From then the women in the choir were featured on “A Girl’s Garden” from a poem by Robert Frost, and the men of the choir sang a spiritual song, “Got a Mind to Do Right.” Two folk songs followed: “She’s Like the Swallow” and “Song for the Mira,” which featured a flute solo from HAMS choral and band director and HAHS marching band assistant director, Emily Canner.
Singers also had the opportunity to audition for three featured solos which took place throughout the program. There were two Italian arias performed by HAHS seniors Patrick Sweet and Dana Gallagher, as well as a duet from two Southern Huntingdon singers, Sarah Cisney and Joyce Jones.
Senior Patrick Sweet spoke on this event as, “one of the most fun and interactive festivals I’ve ever been a part of, thanks to Dr. Shelley.”
Several of the students who participated in this noncompetitive festival will be advancing to the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association’s District 4 Choir Festival at Clearfield Area High School from Feb. 7-9, 2019.