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North Kitsap's elite voices carrying far and wide

Members of the North Kitsap High School choir pose for a photo in New York City
Members of the North Kitsap High School choir pose for a photo in New York City's Times Square.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

POULSBO — North Kitsap High School choir students are getting used to taking their show on the road.

This weekend several of them will participate in the Columbia Basin Jazz Festival in Pasco. The following weekend, seven students will travel to Ellensburg to compete in the Washington State Solo and Ensemble Contest — comparable to a state championship for singers. And two weeks ago, a group of about 50 singers went to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall.

Choir teacher Sylvia Cauter has taken four groups of students to Carnegie Hall over the past 10 years.

“They were all great musical experiences, especially since the conductor was so good,” Cauter said of the trips.

At this year’s performance, the North Kitsap choir was led by guest conductor René Clausen, the choral conductor for The Concordia Choir at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. Clausen is well-known among American and European musicians and has written more than 50 commissioned compositions.

The North Kitsap choir, along with choirs from three other high schools and colleges from across the country, performed the Easter portion of Handel’s “Messiah” on stage at Carnegie Hall as part of a special Easter Sunday production. The choir earned an invitation to the event based on its past performances at Carnegie and recommendations from university choir directors who have heard the singers perform.

“The kids from this school really took this very, very seriously,” Cauter said. “It’s not something they could’ve learned in a matter of days. Musically speaking, they were great.”

Singer Toria Messinger reflected on the experience Wednesday during choir practice.

“The acoustics were incredible,” she said. “It was really cool to see how the choirs and the orchestra interacted.”

During their five days in New York, the students also toured famous landmarks and watched a Broadway play. But for many, the opportunity to sing at one of the most famous concert halls in the country was the trip’s highlight.

“If you died and Carnegie Hall is the last place you ever performed, you could probably die happy,” choir student Tasha Turner said.

The State Solo and Ensemble Contest, which also includes instrumentalists, does not take place at Carnegie Hall, but it’s another chance for elite singers to prove themselves. Four soloists and two duets from North Kitsap High qualified for the state contest when they won the Olympic Regional contest in February. The Olympic Region includes schools from Kitsap and Mason counties.

Jakob Haws is returning to the state contest this year, and remembers it as a tough but enjoyable competition.

“It was cool to see all the different groups perform from all across the state,” Haws said. “The quality of music was very good.”

Cauter recognizes the natural ability her students have, but says it’s only with constant practice that they have been able to achieve success in music. Each of the vocalists going to the state contest takes private lessons in addition to singing for the school choir.

“I tend to think that the work ethic comes before the talent,” Cauter said.

The singers said Cauter’s training and support has helped spur them on through the years.

“She puts the same effort into all of her choirs,” choir student Susan Coran said.

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