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After a tumultuous two years, MHS Concert Choir exceeds expectations at contest in its director's final year.

Molalla High School's Concert Choir, under the direction of Tim Friesen, has always performed well. In Friesen's 32 years of teaching, the choir has placed in the top five many times and was state champion twice. But something was different about its third-place win this year.

The MHS Concert Choir has seen its fair share of challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning caused many students, both at Molalla and across the state, to leave choir. For those who stayed, this was their first time competing at state.

COURTESY PHOTO: TIM FRIESEN - The 19-member Molalla High School Concert Choir performed at the OSAA state choir competition on May 7.

"Everybody felt really intimidated because there were some big groups," senior Carmen Dominguez said. "But we were all just thinking about going there and having fun."

Friesen, who was set to retire just before the COVID pandemic hit, dealt with illness, fewer students and a number of other setbacks along the way. But that didn't stop the singers from giving it their all at state.

The Molalla Concert Choir competed in the Oregon School Activities Association state championship on May 7 in Corvallis. The group placed third out of seven choirs in the 4A division, coming in just behind La Grande and McLoughlin high schools.

"It was awesome, and kind of shocking," said senior Ethan Carlson. "We showed the judges that even though we were small, we can still do great things."

This year's choir has never performed at state together, since the pandemic ended concerts and other performing arts for nearly two years.

Friesen said that in years past, the choir always had strong numbers, with about 50 students in Concert Choir each year. This year, however, the group only had 19 members. Friesen attributed the loss of students to the difficulties of practicing "together" while distance learning.

"Those numbers don't matter," he said. "What matters if your work ethic and your passion and your willingness to work as a team."

In fact, as a smaller group, they were able to bond with one another.

"Because our choir is so small, I feel like we were able to have more of a connection with each other," Carlson said, "that in turn gave us the right mindset to strive for excellence."

Friesen said he had to make some adjustments this year to account for fewer students and only four boys. Friesen chose songs that wouldn't max out the boys and had some girls singing tenor.

"It has been a ridiculous pleasure to teach (this group) because even though we're small in numbers, the kids who stuck it out, who stuck with choir through thick and thin, through distance learning, they were really, really committed," Friesen said. "So sometimes they made up for talent with just darn hard work."

The choir's repertoire included four songs. The first, "Dies Irae," is a Latin requiem hymn. As a piece traditionally sung at funerals, it's dark and intense. The second piece was "Carnivalito," a Bolivian Carnival festival song that's upbeat and bright, a stark contrast to the first.

The third song was a German piece, "In Stiller Nacht," by Johannes Brahms. Friesen said this was the group's most challenging piece, about longing and broken-heartedness. The choir wrapped up its performance with "Sigalaga," a sacred Kenyan song of jubilation with lots of percussion and dancing.

COURTESY PHOTO: TIM FRIESEN - MHS Concert Choir took home a third-place trophy for its performance at state.

The strong performance apparently impressed the judges and left students and Friesen feeling proud of their accomplishments.

"Since we are such a small choir, we were extremely determined to do the best that we can," senior Bowie Sekne said. "Having that connection with each other was incredibly helpful performance-wise."

Friesen was set to retire when COVID-19 began. He decided to keep teaching throughout the pandemic but will retire at the end of the school year.

"I knew it was my last time putting on that tuxedo, the last time I was going to direct those kids in a format like that," he said.

Friesen admitted to getting a little emotional in the warmup room talking with his choir.

"I told them, 'I wouldn't want to go through this experience on my last year with anybody but you guys," he said. "And sure, I'm looking forward to retirement, but what a great way to go out to know they sang their very best that day and left everything on the table."

As the school year wraps up, MHS will host a free spring concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, in the auditorium. Concert Choir, Chorale and swing jazz choir Socailaires will perform. Concert Choir will then head out on a choir tour around Oregon and northern California for six days.

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