Avon High School Choir Students Experience Success, Camaraderie and Fun
Photography Provided by Performing Arts Photography
When Rick Gamble first started teaching choir at Avon High School (AHS) 29 years ago, a total of 67 students were enrolled in three choirs. Today AHS has seven choirs, ranging from beginning to intermediate to advanced, with a total of 230 students. They include Oriole, Black & Gold, Symphonic, Chamber Singers, Allegros, Accents, and Attraction.
The Avon choirs perform at concerts and community events throughout the school year. They put on a fall concert, a winter solace concert (in collaboration with the orchestra), a holiday concert, a preview concert, an organizational concert and a spring concert. Each one offers new music. They also perform at the Artsgarden, the Indiana State Museum, the Avon Christmas tree lighting, the Heritage Festival, the Avon Education Foundation, and the Lions Club. The show choirs host a one-day kids camp where they teach elementary-aged students a song and dance, which they perform at halftime at a boys basketball game. The Allegros and Chamber Singers perform in the annual Madrigal Dinner. Choirs have also traveled to New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago to participate in competitions and festivals.
“We try to give our kids a well-rounded music education by teaching them to site read and by exposing them to all genres of music and composers,” says Leah Trigg, who began teaching choir at AHS in January of 2017. “We want them to be good at everything, not just one thing.”
The choir room holds countless plaques and trophies the choirs have earned through the years. Their concert choirs have almost always finished in Group I, with outstanding sight-reading awards from the Organizational Festivals. The Chamber Singers have been grand champions numerous times at the Smoky Mountain Music Festival, and high finishers at Ben Davis, Pike, North Central and Mooresville. They finished third in the ISSMA Concert Choir competition in 2019. The Allegros were ISSMA state champs four years ago. The Accents, Allegros and Chamber Singers have been state finalists 17 times.
The choirs’ successes are due not only to inherent student talent, but also to the training they get from the Avon choral programming, starting before they enter high school. Erin Slavens directs the all-girls show choir and Attraction, and also teaches choir at Avon Intermediate School West.
Accents (the mixed show choir) has between 50 and 60 members. Attraction has between 60 and 65 members. The show choirs compete in four to five Saturday competitions in January and February. AHS also hosts the Avon Vocal Invitational, which draws in thousands of people each year. When show choir season is complete, they compete as a concert choir. This year, four concert choirs competed at the Group I ISSMA level.
“I tell the kids, ‘Our success is not determined by trophies but by work hard, having fun and delivering a good product,” Trigg says. “Trophies are icing on the cake.”
This year was the first time in the school’s history that both show choirs competed at state in the same year. Attraction placed second and Accents placed sixth. In addition, this past spring, several choirs traveled to Universal Studios to compete nationally. As the mixed show choir was waiting in line to enter the park, they got caught in a deluge just prior to their performance and had to perform their set drenched from head to toe. Their spirit, however, wasn’t dampened. Kyler Casbon, who graduated from AHS last month, says his favorite memory from all his years in show choir was placing fourth in Orlando after performing soaking wet.
“One of the best lessons I’ve learned from show choir is to give 100% to everything you do in life, even in practice, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you’re struggling,” he says.
Choir teaches skills that one often can’t get in sports, because in choir, everyone’s in the game the entire time.
“There is no putting somebody on the bench if they’re not doing well,” Trigg says. “You don’t take this alto that’s singing it wrong and say, ‘I’ll just put in another alto who’s doing it better tonight.’ I don’t just take the best five people like the basketball coach. We are all in, all the time.”
When COVID-19 hit, choir programs everywhere had to assess how to safely sing. Though the Avon faculty wanted to be sure they took every precaution necessary to ensure students’ physical health, they also recognized the importance of preserving mental health.
“All sense of normalcy was ripped away,” Trigg says. “We knew that if we took away choir, students would have nothing.” They wore masks, spaced themselves out and quarantined when necessary. But they never stopped performing.
“We’re grateful for the support of our administration and parents,” Trigg says. “We also appreciate the Avon Choral Boosters, who raise money for the program in order to keep fees relatively low.”
Though any student is welcome to join choir at any time during their high school career, getting started early has its perks.
“I’m glad I got involved in sixth grade because it helps you get a head start on sight reading, rhythms and clefs,” Casbon says.
Abby Lex, who will be a junior at AHS this fall, recommends show choir to younger students because of the community it creates.
“Older members are happy to show freshmen the ropes and teach them years of tradition,” Lex says. “It’s 60 immediate new friends, sisters and brothers.”
Dylan Hensley, who starts his junior year this fall, says prior to joining Avon choir, the only singing he did was in the car with his mom.
“My confidence has improved extremely as a result of show choir,” Hensley says. “I feel so confident on stage and can fully express myself. I have the best time ever when I’m on stage.”
That’s what it’s all about.
“We try to make our choirs feel like a family,” says Slavens.
Not only is singing fun, but it can also be cathartic.
“Choir is a place where you can release all the emotions you have inside of you through your voice,” Slavens says. “When you’re taught how to do it well, there’s no other feeling like it.”
The camaraderie is also a big part of why students love choir. Slavens says that’s because music connects people.
“Choral music has been a huge part of my life, one that I’ve been privileged to undertake at one of the best music high schools in the nation,” Gamble says. He’s seen his former students thrive musically. Two have pursued a career in opera, another went to work in the Big Apple, and three are currently teaching music in Indiana schools. In addition, many students go on to sing in their university choirs.
“The Purdue Musical Organizations have joked that they should send a bus down for the number of kids who participate in their organizations,” Gamble says. Indiana University’s Singing Hoosiers group also includes many Avon alumni.
“These students aren’t necessarily studying music,” Trigg says. “They just love it so much that they wanted to continue it in college. That’s what we always hope for, that our students develop a lifelong love and appreciation for all kinds of music, because life is better when you have music in it.”
This summer, AHS show choirs are offering a one-week camp for students in grades 3 through 8. To register for the camp or to learn more about AHS choir programs, visit avonchoirs.com.