Destrehan’s jazz choir a popular choice
By Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / January 19, 1998
DESTREHAN – Music is a major part of any teen-ager’s life. Whether it becountry or rock and roll, jazz or alternative, it’s a good bet you’ll find theradio turned on in today’s youth’s rooms or cars.
A group of students at Destrehan High School have taken that love ofmusic the extra mile. Like many of their contemporaries, they are taking aform of music education in their studies. But the form of music they havechosen to perform is one of the hardest to learn – jazz.
They are the members of the Destrehan High School Jazz Choir. Under thedirection of Barbara Moras, director of vocal music at Destrehan, thisgroup has been invited to perform at everything from school boardmeetings to the Celebration in the Oaks in City Park in New Orleans.
Moras started the choir when she came to Destrehan three years ago. Shesaid she’s been involved in music since she began playing the piano whenshe was 7 years old in New York and that jazz was a style of music shewas always interested in. Moras told her class the first week she was atDestrehan that she was interested in starting a jazz choir, and meetingswere held after school to form the choir.
Moras said jazz is a hard style to learn because it is a non-traditionalform. Whereas in traditional music students can rely on the ear to fill inchords, students in the jazz have to learn more theory to understand howthe chord is made up.
Three levels of choir are taught at Destrehan – beginning, intermediateand advanced – but except is only students who have had one semester ofadvanced choir are allowed to join the jazz choir. Moras said the qualitiesshe looks for in students are leadership, willingness to give 100 percentand go the extra mile, enthusiasm and the ability to get along with others.Students must work together as a group in order for the performance towork.
“You need every voice to make up the whole, but every voice is important,”Moras said. “Everybody needs to know their part equally well.”
Moras said the choir can consist of 12 to 16 performers, with 13 membersmaking up this year’s squad. The choir is divided up between tenors,sopranos, altos and bass.
How those 13 students first got involved in music varies. For example,David Boss Jr., a senior, said he first got involved because of a mistake inhis schedule in the eighth grade at Albert Cammon Middle School. He wasput in the same math class he’d the year before, so he was transferred toa music class.
Boss said he had doubts at first but has gotten more involved in it. He hasbeen in the district honor choir since the eighth grade and is now involvedin the all-state choir, the Jefferson Performing Arts Society’s youth andsymphonic choirs and participates in all the school’s musicals.
“It brings your voice out more,” Boss said of the jazz style. “It hastrained my ear better for other types of music.”
Janell Weaver, a junior, said she first got involved because she likedsinging around the house. Weaver said she liked the sounds of the jazzchoir, so when they held open auditions she tried out. She is also in theparish and district choirs and said being in a small group like the jazzchoir has made her more confident to sing.
Others like Cindy Schneider and Rebekah Rihner, both juniors, got startedbecause their families were involved in music. Schneider said she gotinterested in music at Albert Cammon and has been very involved in bothbeginning and advanced choir. She said she practices for the choir 90minutes in choir class and with the jazz choir every Tuesday afternoon foran hour. Rihner is involved in her church’s youth choir and is a member ofthe district honor choir.
Laura Morrill, another junior, said she was in the advanced choir onesemester when she tried out for the jazz choir and made it. She said youhave to be a good sight reader for jazz and have more technical knowledgeof music and rhythm. She also emphasized the importance of the groupworking together.
“Everybody needs to know their part,” Morrill said. “It has to blend more.When we all work together, it gives the chords more color.”
Both Shannon Wright and Sarah Smith are involved in the choir at FirstBaptist Church. Both said there is a lot of practice involved in the jazzchoir and you have to know music. Laine Brignac seconded that statementand said being in the choir has helped her become more confident in hersinging.
Matt Ragas had been involved in music theater with the St. John Theater inReserve before coming to Destrehan. He said he is planning to study musicat the University of Mississippi and would like to make a career in music,particularly in music theater.
Ragas is not the only member of the jazz choir who said they see music asa career. Rihner said she would like to go into music therapy or teachmusic, and Weaver said she would also like to take music in college.
For now, the jazz choir has a busy schedule. The choir has performed atnursing homes and has been featured on the Channel 6 news. The grouprecently performed for a meeting of the St. Charles Parish School Boardand received the honor of performing at the Celebration in the Oaks for thesecond straight year. The choir also performs at concerts at the schoolthroughout the year.
Moras said jazz lends itself to a variety of ballads and swing tunes. Thechoir plays selections from Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Kirby Shaw andSteve Allen as well as from the big band era and pop music. Moras said thechoir usually plays three to four selections per concert.
Moras said when a group is invited to perform, it is usually the jazz choirthat is selected.
“This is a select group,” Moras said. “The kids are honored to be in thejazz choir. You have to be able to put in the extra mile to be in it.”
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