Dozens of Columbus High School Concert Choir students on Wednesday evening loaded a charter bus and started the approximately 13-hour trek to Nashville, Tennessee, to compete in this year’s Barbershop Harmony Society’s Midwinter Convention Youth Contest.
“It’s definitely a bit of a mouthful,” CHS Vocal Music Instructor Jacob Ritter said of competition’s name, with a laugh, while describing the approximately 900-student vocal music spectacle happening at the famed Grand Ole Opry over the course of the next three days.
Two years ago, CHS choir students had the opportunity to travel to New York City to soak up the sites and perform an A cappella rendition at the Carnegie Hall concert venue in downtown Manhattan. Now, Ritter and his students are getting away from the East Coast and heading down south to soak up the sites, eats and great musical heritage that Nashville provides.
Nicknamed "Music City" and considered the country music capital of the world, Nashville is also known for hot chicken and the late and legendary musician Johnny Cash.
Forty-seven CHS Concert Choir students will perform on Thursday and nearly all day on Friday. Ritter said two groups were making the trip: a girls' quartet and a full-bodied concert choir set to compete against approximately 20 talented ensembles from around the United States. The quartet is scheduled to compete against 14 quartet groups at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center leading up to Friday’s late-morning group contest held on the main stage of the Grand Ole Opry House.
Known as one of the country’s most famous stages, hundreds of thousands of people make the pilgrimage annually to see the venue's assortment of live shows, according to information off of the Grand Ole Opry website. Essentially, anybody who is anybody in country music has – or aspires – to kick their boots on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Cash, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley are among the most notable people who performed there.
Although Ritter has explained its significance to his students, he said he knows it’s something they will just have to experience in person to understand its full aura.
“I think you have to just be there to fully grasp where it is you’re actually performing,” he said of the venue. And, of course, they will have the walls lined with pictures of everyone who has performed there … there’s just a really rich history.”
Joining CHS performers on the stage Wednesday are members of the Lincoln-based Pius X Catholic High School choir. The groups have performed together previously – Ritter has ties with the school’s band director - during the Nebraska Music Educators Association convention and look forward to doing so again. While they haven’t performed together in excess, the two choirs mesh well and will have time to run through a quick rehearsal.
“So it’s not like they will be going in blind,” Ritter said of the sophomores through seniors taking part in the trip.
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Senior Reagan Gausman, a member of the girls’ quartet, had the opportunity to travel to New York City as a sophomore and enjoyed every aspect of the experience. Being surrounded by like-minded vocalists was inspiring, and she said that she’s looking forward to an unforgettable weekend in Nashville.
It’s one of the music capitals of the world, she said, noting that having the chance to perform Barber Shop music – a real love of hers – is pretty exciting.
“And I will be with a whole bunch of people that are there for the same reason,” she said. “Just being there with all the excitement, with just one of the best groups you can be around.”
Logan Albers was also pretty anxious Wednesday to hop on the bus and get the trip moving. Having missed out on the New York trip his freshman year, the CHS junior said that he’s excited – much like Gausman – to be surrounded by other students as passionate about music as himself.
The complete Nashville package doesn’t hurt, either.
“I’ve never been to a historic city like that, especially for music,” he said of their destination. “So I think it’s going to be quite the experience to see some of the historic Nashville. Historic cities have always been an interest of mine."
While it’s great to soak of the scenery, ultimately, the next few days for the CHS crew are all about competing and showing off the school’s talent, which Ritter said he is confident will impress the judging panel.
“This is the best my kids have sounded, the best I think I have ever seen since I’ve been at CHS,” said Ritter, who is in his fourth year at the school. “Like, they are just nailing it. Just sounding so good, and it’s not easy music, so I’m just so excited for my students to have this experience."
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.