KMS choir: Hooking ’em while they’re young

KINGSTON — It’s hard to build a successful high school choir without a thriving middle school choir to feed it.

Last year Kingston Middle hosted a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade mixed choir with more than 30 students. They traveled to a festival and were “highly adjudicated” and gave very “successful” concerts.

This meant great news for the Kingston High choir, which is in its infancy and trying to build its program and numbers, as having a solid middle school “feeder” choir, producing quality, trained singers will bolster the KHS choir.

“That exposure gets them hooked,” said KHS choir director Adam Campanga. “Without that it’s so much more difficult to have a quality program at the high school level. Kingston High School is small, meaning it’s important to get everybody in there.”

Last year all was groovy for the two Kingston choirs: a growing KMS choir fed the KHS choir, a symbiotic relationship at its finest.

“The idea for this year was to really have that program grow so next year’s group coming to the high school would be a lot bigger,” Campanga said.

However, all good things come to an end, sometimes after one short year.

This year the mixed-grade level choir at KMS is obsolete, there’s not a designated choir class or stipend for KMS choir director Toby Kemper. Based upon Kemper’s understanding, the mixed-grade level choir offering was nixed because it conflicted with the master schedule. It was too difficult to place sixth-graders in a mixed-class setting.

“Building a master schedule is a challenging task with lots of variables. I love doing it but those variables can affect what we would love to offer students but can’t,” wrote KMS Principal Susan Wistrand in an e-mail. “I always feel bad when we can’t meet all our students’ and parents’ and staffs’ wishes and desires. We truly do our best.”

Kemper was also informed the interest level was down. However, Kemper said there’s about 50 students who’ve shown interest.

“I see the numbers,” he said. “In my opinion the numbers are there and having a choir is justified.”

Instead of an actual choir period, Kemper uses his advisory class as a make-shift choir program for the eighth-graders. He’s recruiting as many sixth- and seventh-graders as he can for the quasi-choir. The recruited students drop by during the advisory period when they can, and the eighth-graders only sing when they’ve got the time. Kemper’s arranged for an accompanist to come on Thursdays.

“I’m just trying to fit it in there within the confines of a 30-minute study hall class,” Kemper said. “I’m doing the best I can to help keep it together.”

Kemper doesn’t blame anyone for the decision and he said KMS administration is being very accommodating, as they organized the advisory period offering.

“Every student should be provided with an arts class that meets their needs,” Kemper said. “If it comes to a situation where students will have to go to Poulsbo Middle or North Kitsap High for choir, we’re leaving out a population of students who can’t go there and take choir.”


High’s dilemma

Campanga told Kemper he’s got to do everything in his power to change the current choir situation. Without a KMS feeder choir filling up the budding KHS choir, Campanga must place all the choir students in one class, as KHS doesn’t have enough choir students to justify two choir classes. Campanga likened trying to teach varying degrees of singing ability in one class at the same time to trying to teach four different grade levels math.

“I don’t have the ability to give all the kids the attention they need,” Campanga said. “It’s very frustrating for singers who are advanced and are spending three to four weeks going over fundamentals. It affects every student.”

NKHS offers five choir classes: northern lights, chamber, concert, treble and jazz.

Last year Campanga started with about 30 kids in the choir. By semester eight dropped out. He ended the year with 16. It was frustrating for him, and he said most left because they didn’t have an opportunity to be in a choir that challenged them.

“If high school students see a program that’s not going very strong they don’t want to be a part of it,” he said.

Campanga’s been given reassurance there will always be a choir at KHS, but the worries of it falling by the wayside are there as well.

Possible solutions

Both Kemper and Campanga are being creative this year in developing ways to keep both choirs alive, but a concrete solution has yet to be cemented.

Kemper will keep doing all he can to recruit and drive up numbers at KMS. KMS and KHS choirs will give joint concerts this year to show how both interact and depend upon each other for growth and interest. KHS will be performing the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” in late spring, and Campanga hopes the musical will bring some kids out to join the choir.

“There is a population that desires a choir and to learn music. I would hate not to have an opportunity to provide that,” Kemper said. “I just need to continue to recruit and work with them when I can.”

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