BUCKHANNON – Even a worldwide pandemic could not silence the beautiful voices of a select number of Buckhannon-Upshur High School students.
In fact, each of the students who auditioned for the West Virginia Music Association All-State Chorus and the West Virginia American Choral Director’s Association All-State Chamber Choir made it into one, if not both ensembles.
Jeremiah Smallridge, B-UHS choral instructor, shared the exciting news that nine students were selected for the groups. Those accepted into the WVMEA All-State Chorus include B-UHS senior Elizabeth O’Neill; B-UHS freshman Victoria Adams; B-UHS junior Ryanna Hines; B-UHS senior Heather Humphrey; B-UHS junior Kobe Hamrick; B-UHS senior Ethan Lawrence; and B-UHS senior Patrick O’Neill. Those selected for the WVACDA All-State Chamber Choir include B-UHS senior Elizabeth O’Neill; B-UHS sophomore Julianna Stark; B-UHS junior Kobe Hamrick; B-UHS senior Patrick O’Neill; and B-UHS senior Richard Williams.
Smallridge offered his congratulations to the students on this honor.
“We are very proud of these hard-working students,” Smallridge said. “I am very blessed to work with such dedicated, hard-working and talented students.”
This year’s audition process was different from previous years and was completed via Zoom, and Smallridge said those trying out for the All-State Choir and the All-State Chamber Choir auditioned for both groups together this year. He said students auditioning for the All-State Chamber Choir also completed sight singing and other musicianship assessments as well as the performance portion of the auditions.
Only 138 students were selected for the W.Va. All-State Choir and 25 for the W.Va. All-State Chamber Choir this year. Smallridge said some of the students will be featured in a virtual choir performance with the American Pop Orchestra on PBS, but as of now, the performance date has not been announced. He said the students did record a song and that it is available on Facebook.
Smallridge said there have been many obstacles during this year for his students.
“Singing was flagged early on in the pandemic as a dangerous activity,” he said. “For this reason, we did not offer choir in the fall of 2020. This spring, we knew more about COVID and are having choir. However, we use singer specific masks and sing socially distanced. We also keep singing between 15 and 30 minutes in one space. If we sing longer than that, we change locations. Finally, we clean the room after choir rehearsals with disinfectant.”
“Our plans for concerts are up in the air at the moment,” Smallridge added. “We are looking into outdoor virtual performances.”
Smallridge said they have found some innovative additions to choir this year in lieu of singing, including movement, drumming and a heavy focus on score study and music reading.
Three students – Elizabeth O’Neill, Patrick O’Neill and Kobe Hamrick – were selected for both the All-State Choir and the All-State Chamber Choir. Elizabeth, a soprano, and Patrick O’Neill, a baritone or bass 1, are twins and they shared their experience in auditioning and how they became interested in music.
Elizabeth O’Neill said her auditions this year took place on Zoom with the judge. She said there will not be a performance this year where all the All-State members perform together, adding that this is her fourth year being selected for All-State Choir.
“I have been selected all four years since being at Buckhannon-Upshur High School,” Elizabeth said. “We did not have choir in the middle school I attended.”
Elizabeth said her love of music and singing came at an early age.
“I always have loved music for as long as I can remember,” she said. “My mom said as a young child, I always would sing and dance in front of the television. I have never felt I was very good at playing an instrument, but I enjoy making music by singing and I feel like I am very good at that.”
Along with choir, Elizabeth said she participated in theater and is a member of the swim team. Following graduation, she plans to attend Southern Virginia University to study music therapy.
Patrick said he has been accepted into the All-State Choir all four years he has attended B-UHS. He said he developed a love for music in his church.
“When I was younger, in church, we would do a lot of singing,” he said. “We also sang a lot in Sunday School, and I think that is initially what helped me love singing. When we came to high school, I had the opportunity to join choir and to do the extracurricular A Capella choir. I joined those, and I really liked them. I stuck with them all through high school, and it has been a great time.”
Patrick said when singing, he enjoys chamber or choral music and rock music.
In the future, Patrick said he plans to continue with his music.
“I have been thinking of doing music education as my college major,” Patrick said. “I am very heavily leaning on attending Brigham Young University-Idaho as my college.”
Patrick is a member of the B-UHS Choir and A Capella Choir and plays trumpet in the B-UHS Marching Band.
“I am a member of theater and do school plays,” he said. “I take piano lessons and am a member of the B-UHS Jazz Band.”
Patrick said making All-State Choir all four years during high school was a goal attained.
“I was nervous this year with the pandemic that I would not make All-State,” he said. “Reaching that goal has been exciting. In years past, meeting and networking with other All-State Choir members was an amazing opportunity.”
Patrick said he plans on serving a mission for his church.
“It will be a two-year mission either beginning this summer or the summer after my first two semesters of college,” Patrick said. “That is something that is very important to me.”
Tom and Megan O’Neill, of Buckhannon, are the parents of Elizabeth and Patrick O’Neill.