Thousands gathered Saturday at the Peoria Civic Center to hear concerts performed by some elite groups of Illinois high school band and choir members.
Two Morris Community High School students will be among the performers.
Seniors Jacob O’Marrah (choir) and Harmony Alford (band, flute) were chosen not only for the select Illinois Music Educators’ Association All-State choir and band, respectively, but both were also selected to the even-more-exclusive honors choir and band.
Being chosen for All-State was enough of an honor for the two – it’s been years since anyone from Morris besides Jacob last year has been picked for IMEA All-State – but then to also make the ranks of honors was a high joy for them and for their directors.
“I did not expect it at all,” Harmony said on the evening honors band members were announced. “Everyone is so good here.”
Harmony said she has been in awe of the musicianship of the other instrumentalists while she has been there. The students spent Thursday and Friday in rehearsals and attending concerts, then will perform later today.
“I was kind of taken aback,” Jacob said of learning he made honors choir. “I thought, ‘I guess I’m doing something well.’ I’m very blessed to have a God who loves me and allows me to sing for his glory.”
This is the second year in a row that Jacob has been in the honors choir. He remembers the first time anyone recognized his vocal abilities.
“I remember my mom wanted me to sing a song for Mother’s Day one time,” he said.
He said he was surprised at the praise he got when he sang that song.
“I joined choir in seventh grade,” he said, “and I fell in love with choir.”
Beginning his freshman year in high school, he said things just “took off” for him and music. He’s never had professional voice lessons – they’re pretty expensive, he said – and he’s learned everything he knows about how to use his voice through choir and district festivals.
“Jacob has a really free, natural beauty in his tone that is really rare,” said his choir director, Alyssa Napolitano, “especially in the tenor range. He is very talented as a musician, and he has almost perfect pitch. He’s also very talented at reading music, and he composes and plays the piano beautifully.”
Jacob said it’s been his junior high choir director, Rollin Varness; his high school director his freshman and sophomore years, Paul Jung; and his current choir director, Napolitano, who are the reasons he made All-State.
“Mr. Jung was very, very big on sight reading,” Jacob said. “We did it each and every day. And Mrs. Napolitano also has us sight read.
“To me, music is a language – a whole entirely different way to approach life. You can express emotions or express praise or mourn someone you lost.”
“For me,” Harmony explained, “being in band and playing the flute is a stress relief in a way. I love being in band. You can play and excel and compete in a way that classes don’t allow.”
MCHS band director Don Stinson said Harmony is a fine flautist who has shown that hard work really does pay off to make a great musician.
“Harmony did not earn a spot in IMEA because she is talented, started at an early age, or because she was given more opportunities than other students,” Stinson said. “She earned the spot because she worked extremely hard at a goal that she set. She sat in a practice room and worked until the music was up to her standards. There were many times that she was not good at something at first, but instead of giving up at the sign of the first failure, she did the work to become great at it.”
Harmony wasn’t able to be in a band her first year of middle school, as that was the year Shabbona Middle School got rid of its band and music programs due to budgetary constraints. She was in the choir her seventh-grade year, then finally joined band in eighth grade.
In high school, everything started coming together for her and music when she joined band with new director Stinson, then at a rehearsal for a school musical, she met flautist and Morris resident Tiffany Morrison. She almost immediately began taking private lessons with Morrison.
“It was the most incredible experience for me,” Harmony said of meeting and working with her now mentor. “I couldn’t have done any of this without her. She’s the most incredible person.”
Morrison was not only able to take Harmony to new levels with her music, but she also knew exactly what it meant to be an All-State musician. Before Harmony, Morrison herself was the last Morris band member to go to All-State in 2007.
“The Morris music program is very proud of Harmony and Jacob’s representation of themselves and their community this weekend at All-State,” Stinson said. “Although they will be missed when they graduate this spring, both students have done an exemplary job of leaving a great model of leadership and work ethic for all current and future students.Both students plan on attending college next year – Harmony studying computer science and Jacob studying pastoral ministry or Biblical study.