Three named to All-State choir, jazz band

Amelia Martens

During their senior years at Orion High School, three boys represented Orion at the Illinois Music Educators Association (IMEA) All-State Conference from Jan. 29 through Jan. 31 at the Peoria Civic Center.  

Eric Smith played the bass guitar in the jazz band, while Alex Gombert and Rob McDonnell sang in the concert choir.

Preparations for the IMEA All-District Conference began in September for the trio. 

OHS choir director Andrea Kapusinski helped prepare her students by creating a sign up list of times that she could work with them. She also provided copies of a rehearsal CD. 

Josh Hahn, the band director at the time, said that the high school jazz band helped prepare Smith. 

The OHS jazz band began rehearsals a few weeks before the district auditions to give students a chance to practice improvising.  

Gombert and McDonnell shared the advantage of already being familiar with a few pieces that they had sung in choir at school. 

The district audition involved singing selected sections from two out of five prepared songs. It also involved singing scales and triads, plus sight-reading.  

Smith’s audition involved a prepared piece, sight-reading, and improvisation. Then he just “hoped that it’d be okay.”  

Things were definitely better than okay. In early December, Gombert, Smith and McDonnell found out that they had made All-State. 

As soon as Kapusinski found out that Gombert and McDonnell had made it, she had them called down to the high school office.  

“I was at the middle school at the time, so I called the high school and told them over the phone,” she said. Gombert and McDonnell were excited and surprised that they had made it.

Hahn told Smith that he had made it over the phone, too.  

“I was shocked,” Smith said.

On Thursday, Jan. 29, the trio headed down to the Peoria Civic Center for two days of rehearsals and concerts with musicians from all over the state.  

“It was an amazing experience to be with people that really cared about what they were doing,” McDonnell said. “It was a choir of 300 people and everyone was on pitch and using vertical vowels. Everyone listened to the director, so the music was perfect.”

“It was an amazing sound,” Gombert said. “It was really cool to be in a choir where everyone sang very well.”

“We practiced all day for hours,” Smith remembered. “The performance was awesome.”

All-State wasn’t just for the students though. Kapusinski and Hahn enjoyed a variety of directors’ clinics and workshops. Kapusinski said that All-State was just as much fun for directors as it was for the students.

For the few days that they were there, the boys learned a lot about music. They gained many technical skills and were able to learn in a different environment.  

“I learned how to control my soft palette more and manipulate it for different vowels,” Rob said.

Overall, it was a great experience and everyone enjoyed it.  

“It took a lot of hard work and it was neat to see it all pay off,” Hahn said.  

“I am really proud of the students who put in the time and work to be selected for such a great honor,” Kapusinksi said. “It’s a great representation of our school.” 

Gombert, Smith and McDonnell will all receive plaques with their photos to be placed on the wall in the OHS music room in recognition of their accomplishments.