Cumberland High choral students rack up awards

Cumberland High choral students rack up awards

Members of Cumberland’s Clipper Choir and Clef Singers have found their niche in the school’s music department, earning top scores in local and national festivals while forming connections with their peers through music.

CUMBERLAND – The Cumberland High School Choral Department is running out of room for its trophies.

It’s a good problem to have, says choir director Janita Ducharme, but they could certainly use another display case.

The collection of awards grew larger last month when the Clipper Chorus and Clef Singers earned a gold rating and took home first place in each category at the 2019 WorldStrides Onstage Heritage Festival.

Though the accolades serve as validation of their hard work, Ducharme said she’s most proud of her students’ camaraderie and drive to improve.

“Because we spend so much time talking about the music and working toward the ultimate goal of making really great music and sharing it with others, we’re connecting on an almost spiritual level,” Ducharme said. “We’re all working together.”

What Ducharme’s classroom lacks in windows and natural sunlight it makes up for in charm. The first thing students see when they enter is “Choir 4 Life” spelled out in photographs on the back wall of the classroom. For many students, Ducharme said the choir classroom feels like a place to escape the monotony of their daily schedules, offering a break in the day where they’re able to close their Chromebooks.

“One of my students came in the other day and said, ‘This is my favorite room. It’s really homey,’” she said.

If the music room is home, the students in the choir are family. “Kids often say it feels that way,” said Ducharme.

“Though we learn music during the day, what we all learn together are life lessons,” said junior Paige Chicoine. “When we are all together the way we are, we learn to love and care for others. We build connections and we grow together as a family through our high school career.”

Though their personalities are all very different, Chicoine said students all “intertwine perfectly,” cracking jokes, hiding things around the room and leaving notes behind on the board. “The memories we make together are special to the group as a whole,” she said.

Cumberland offers multiple options for those with a knack for song, starting with Concert Chorus, available to students in grades 9-12 as a class that meets during the school day. If students can’t fit chorus into their daily school schedule, they’re still able to participate by rehearsing after school.

Students may also audition for the Clef Singers, an advanced mixed ensemble of select singers that was established in 1965 by Nectar Lennox. The Choral Department annually presents the Nectar Lennox Award to a student who has committed four years to the group.

Ducharme appreciates the longevity of the Clef Singers, something she’s reminded of when, for example, she sees a CHS alum at Dave’s Marketplace wearing a Clef jacket from the 1960s. The group still continues many of its traditions, such as performing an annual concert at the Monastery.

“Clef has this historic presence in Cumberland,” she said.

Both the Clipper Chorus (concert choir) and Clef Singers have earned top honors in local and national choral festivals, including the annual Senior High School Choral Festival hosted by the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association in March. The Clef Singers earned a score of 39.3 out of 40.

Students typically prepare three pieces for the festival, each varying in style, genre, and often language, which are performed in front of a panel of professional choir directors and other high school choirs from across the state. Ducharme said it’s a great opportunity to receive feedback and constructive criticism.

In selecting music for her 89 students to perform, Ducharme says she is not afraid to challenge them.

“We performed an Estonian piece this year that required a lot of research and analysis, which opened up a whole new world for students,” she said. Through song, “they can experience another culture firsthand,” in a different way than they would from reading a textbook.

Junior Gabriella Chase said she enjoys learning music in different languages representing different cultures.

“Music is a story that is waiting to be told to people all around the world,” she said. “I sing because I think these stories have the ability to help people through difficult situations, and I love the idea that people can feel better because someone is singing a song to them.”

The wide range of music they’re ultimately able to master, “shows the kids what they’re capable of,” Ducharme said.

“These types of programs really allow kids to show their full potential,” agreed freshman Emily Roy, adding, “I see chorus as a sort of safe space and a way for me to just let go of all of my stress for the hour or two that I am doing something I really love to do.”

Junior Madilynn Grenier said her experience with the CHS Choral Department has allowed her to grow musically and personally, “further than I thought possible.”

“Our choir has really provided me with a second family and a great support system that I am extremely grateful to have,” she said. People often discuss the importance of music in inspiring students’ creativity, but for Grenier, “it’s always been more about connection.”

“Anyone who knows me can probably vouch for the fact that my communication skills aren’t the best, and I often come across as very gruff. That being said, music provides an outlet for people like me to express and understand feelings that I know I would otherwise choose not to acknowledge, and I think my experiences as a musician have helped me grow as an individual. Its ability to convey emotion seemingly effortlessly in ways that connect with audiences more than words alone ever could is why I could never give up singing.”

To put it simply, senior Amber Duffy said, “It makes me happy, and I feel like I have a place where I belong.”

Members of the community are invited to the choir’s next performance on Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m. for a Walt Disney-themed Spring Concert.