Choir programs grow under new leadership
You might have noticed that the Wilsonville High School Choir Department had a slightly different sound this past school year. While Wilsonville boasted the same talent and noticeable energy that audiences have enjoyed for years, there were also some subtle differences from past years.
That's because the program had a new choir director in Annie Kubitschek, who took over for longtime Choir Director Sue Schreiner after she retired last year. Considering Schreiner had led the choir department since the school first opened 23 years ago, Kubitschek knew she had some big shoes to fill, but says she was excited to bring her own ideas to an already established program.
Kubitschek came to Wilsonville High School from Corvallis, where she taught both the grade school and high school level last year after graduating with a master's degree from Oregon State University. She was hired at Wilsonville last spring, meaning she had time to pick Schreiner's brain during the audition process for the 2016-17 school year.
"She was really helpful in the transition," Kubitschek says. "We both did auditions for this year together, so I got to work with the kids, and she was really helpful with that in making it a smooth transition for me. She was able to introduce me to the kids and she shared a lot with me that helped with continuity."
Kubitschek jumped in headfirst to the role, but circumstances outside her control provided some obstacles in the early going. The first major roadblock came in the form of her classroom, as the Performing Arts Center was under construction when the school year started. That meant the band, theatre and choir classes had to share limited space until the building addition was completed in March. For Kubitschek, that meant teaching her five choir classes in the hallway for the better part of the school year.
"It was pretty chaotic, and there would be deliveries into the hallway in the middle of class, and they were building new trophy cases, but it was definitely worth the wait," Kubitschek says. "We have such a nice space now, and there are practice rooms and the band has a great space.
"It was hard to focus out in the hallway, so having expectations of what class will be like from the beginning, and having a choir space will be really nice for the start of next year."
Despite the inconvenience, Wilsonville High performing arts classes forged on with successful fall and winter performances. The Theatre Department's performances of "As You Like It" and "Anything Goes" were a hit, and the band program continued where it picked up where it left off from a year ago. Kubitschek — who teaches all of Wilsonville's choir classes, including the school's vocal women's choir, concert choir, men's choir, Symphonic Choir, and a cappella group Soul'd Out — says she was impressed with her students' early performances, but wanted to increase the group chemistry ahead of the spring competition season.
She set up an overnight choir retreat for the 47-student Symphonic Choir this past December, where a variety of team-building and singing exercises were planned. While the weather decided not to cooperate, Kubitschek says it was a good opportunity for her students to familiarize themselves with one another.
"It was a good bonding experience for them and it was a good rehearsal experience, but the snowstorm forced us to leave early," she says. "Especially for a big group it's important to come together and be a cohesive unit, so experiences like the retreat are things I plan to continue in the future."
Kubitschek has also focused on implementing music that represents different cultures, selecting songs with lyrics in different languages. She says one of her biggest goals is to show students the power music has to unite all people, and that through collaboration anybody can learn to work together.
"I think you do understand different cultures and people through learning music of different cultures that other people sing. We sang a very intense Balinese piece this year, for example. They didn't know what we were doing at the beginning, but by the end they thought it was awesome," Kubitschek says. "We looked into that culture and I think it helped kids kind of realize that people are people. That's very powerful and important to me."
The first-year choir director also put more of an emphasis on sight-reading musical scores than years past, ensuring that her students can function as independent musicians should they so choose to continue singing after high school. She says it's a skill that can go overlooked at the high school level, but that it's pivotal for students who hope to study music in college and beyond. Kubitschek says all her classes typically spend 15-20 minutes at the beginning of every class sight-reading, which paid dividends when it came time for state competitions.
"Sight-reading is one of my goals, so that I'm not feeding them everything and they can go out on their own when they graduate and continue singing, and know what's happening on the page," Kubitscheck says. "They worked really hard to get to a high level for sight-reading and that hard work definitely paid off."
Despite the lack of classroom space, missed rehearsal time due to snow and crazy finals schedule, Soul'd Out and the Symphonic Choir managed to persevere, enjoying one of their most successful competitions to date. Soul'd Out finished second in the Pacific Northwest International Championship of High School A Cappella in February, narrowly missing out on a berth to nationals, while the Symphonic Choir finished fourth in the 5A Choir State Championships in May. While Kubitschek puts more an emphasis on musical education over competition performance, she admits it was a nice way to cap off an eventful first year.
"I mean it's great that we got fourth place in the state, of course, but I was more excited because that was the best performance they've ever done," she says. "They all connected with one another and with the audience and with me, and they did such a good job. That's why you go to state — to try to get that feeling and experience and they stepped up."
Now that she has a year under her belt Kubitschek says she's excited to see where the Choir Department will grow in year two. She hopes to build community traditions and performances into her choirs' schedules as well as encourage a wider student population to get involved. More than anything, she says she's excited to be part of Wilsonville High School.
"I want to make it a place where kids want to be and continue to collaborate with one another," she says. "The administration and this community supports the arts so much. This is a school and program that is established and supported, with buy in from students and parents. It's a great situation."