Voices vibrated off the theater walls as five Irvine Unified School District high schools came together for the vocal festival on March 22. Instead of traditionally structured musical performances, the festival took on a more interactive learning structure with special guest and clinician, Shawna Steward, director of choral activities at Biola University, sharing her expertise and advice to each choir.
“Hopefully, the students and maybe even the conductors are able to just see a third perspective,” Steward said. “I think when you first hear it just a little different way, sometimes it makes sense, or it clicks.”
Sometimes known as a master class, choir clinics are formatted in a way that the clinician, or expert teacher, can provide immediate feedback and thus work with students on specific techniques that need improvement. Structured similarly, Steward worked with each individual school after the choir had performed two or three songs. She focused on movement, variation and the unity of pieces and how these aspects evoke emotion from the audience.
“It was really interesting in being able to learn all the techniques and how we can improve, and the dynamics and tone quality that she mentioned are something we can greatly improve upon, and I am really happy she brought it up for us,” vocalist and sophomore Nishad Francis said. “It is really nice to be… able to express individuality and how I love connecting with all the other music student. I think that being able to have other students hear that and other people in general understand what I am trying to express is something I definitely value, and I think that makes fine arts week very important for me.”
Among the many songs University, Irvine, Northwood and Woodbridge High performed, Portola High’s performance of “Wanting Memories” by Ysaye Barnwell was most personal to Steward. The lyrics of the song speak of a lost loved one, and Steward explained her own story of loss, showing how music can be a powerful storyteller.
“I think just the beauty of the music, just the sounds, somehow magically infiltrates or penetrates our souls and just makes us feel,” Steward said. “I mean, it’s really corny, but I’ve always said good chord progression is needed every day because when you just have great melody and great harmony working together, there is something that moves the soul, and it’s been felt like that [and] believed for hundreds of year by composers and musicians.”