Gunnery Tenor Performs in All-National Choir in Orlando

Congratulations to Drew Sutherland ’21, who was chosen to perform as part of the 2019 National Association for Music Education (NAfME) All-National Honor Choir as a tenor. The concert, held November 9 at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, featured performances by the NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles, which represent the top performing high school musicians in the United States.
Sutherland was one of 550 all-state musicians chosen from across the country by way of video auditions for the exclusive performance. The program featured six NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles –  a concert band, symphony orchestra, mixed choir, jazz ensemble, guitar ensemble and modern band – each under the leadership of top conductors in the field of music education.

To perform at the national level, students must first audition for and be accepted to perform at the regional and state levels. A member of The Gunnery Vocal Ensemble, Sutherland auditioned last fall and was selected, along with fellow Gunnery students and altos Aris Wang ’20 and Yolanda Wang ’21, to perform in the Northern Region Chorus at the Connecticut Music Educators Association’s (CMEA) Northern Region Music Festival in January 2019. From there, Sutherland advanced to the All-State Chorus, performing at the CMEA All-State Festival in Hartford in February. That performance qualified him to audition for the All-National Honor Choir last May. He was the only Gunnery student – and one of just two from Litchfield County – selected to perform in any of the 2019 NAfME ensembles.

“There were about 240 students in the choir. It was awesome,” said Ron Castonguay, Director of the Arts, who attended the concert and served as a judge for alto saxophone. “The ensembles rehearsed for two and a half days and they put on a concert Saturday night. It was amazing.”

The All-National Honor Choir was directed by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, a visiting professor and conductor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. They performed eight pieces: “Tshotsholoza,” a traditional South African freedom song arranged by Jeffrey Ames; “Antiphon,” by English composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams; “When All Are Singing,” by Ryan Jacobs, winner of the 2019 Student Composers Competition; “When Thunder Comes,” by award-winning composer Mari Valverde; “Weep Not for Him,”  a commissioned work by Wondermagegnehu; “They May Tell You,” with music by Andrea Ramsey and text by teen poet Isabella Cook; “Please Stay,” an anthem for hope intended to destigmatize mental illness, by Jake Runestad; and “Still I Rise,” by Rosephanye Powell, which was inspired by the Maya Angelou poem.
There is a chance that Sutherland could perform in the All-National Honor Choir in his senior year, along with another Gunnery student. He and alto Yolanda Wang ’21 auditioned November 2 and were again selected to perform in the Northern Regional Chorus. That performance will be part of the CMEA Northern Region High School Festival on January 17 and 18, 2020, at New Britain High School, 110 Mill Street, New Britain.

“I am super proud of the students. I’m proud of their independence as musicians, and their commitment to practice on their own,” said Castonguay, who is anticipating the growth and expansion of The Gunnery’s music program, particularly with the opening of the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center in January. “I’m looking forward to many more students not only auditioning, but having that experience of performing at Northern Regionals, All-State, and possibly, All-National.”

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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.