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Utah choir students petition to allow in-person festivals

Posted at 10:02 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 00:02:19-05

SALT LAKE CITY — "I lo-ove to sing!" belted out three Skyridge High seniors Thursday afternoon, to matching piano notes. They repeated the phrase, in higher and higher pitches each time.

"I lo-ove to sing!"

"I lo-ove to sing!"

Not only do Ethan Freestone, Sophi Cueller and Raine Martinez love to sing, they also love to perform live.

"There's a magic when you sit there in the room and you're performing for other students, and you put your entire heart and soul out there," Ethan said.

The three students are part of the Skyridge Singers ensemble group. They go to choir class every other day during the week, learning new songs and practicing for performances.

"Going to choir is the highlight of my day," Raine said.

They said the Skyridge Singers-- made up of just under 30 juniors and seniors-- have been able to host programs in front of an audience. They most recently performed at a Christmas concert, proving that choir concerts can carry on during Covid.

"We can continue to keep social distancing rules, we can have masks the entire time," Raine said. She added that it doesn't disrupt their singing in any way.

It's part of why they're having a hard time understanding the recent decision by the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) to hold the region and state solo/ensemble festivals virtually this year.

"It was like, 'Come on. Seriously?'" Ethan said, of his reaction.

"We're very upset," Raine said. "It's not fair."

"It kind of feels like we're in the back burner," Sophi echoed.

Especially knowing that other UHSAA events have gone on with safety modifications during the pandemic.

"They are allowing all the sports to have their competitions live, without masks, without social distancing rules between different schools and students" Raine said.

Read: UHSAA puts winter high school sports on hold, including tryouts for basketball and wrestling

On top of that, Raine pointed out that the Utah Music Educators Association (UMEA) is allowing large high school choir, orchestra, band and jazz groups to perform in person at region festivals.

"We won't get the same experience for all of the hard work that we have to do to get to this point," Raine expressed.
She started a petition, hoping to reverse the decision.

UMEA President Todd Campbell has been hearing the complaints.

"I've had a lot of even music teachers like, 'Come on, sports is doing it. What's the deal?'" he said.

Campbell also sits on the UHSAA Music Committee, and was part of the decision-making process for moving the solo/ensemble festivals to a virtual format.

He described how it's much more difficult to host a choir, orchestra, and band event than it is a sporting event during the pandemic.

"I have groups of 55/60 kids, two groups of 55/60 kids" he said. "And if you bring seven or eight of those together at once, it's just not really practical in terms of Covid safety."

Campbell said choirs can be upwards of 80, 90 or 100 students.

That many groups and potentially their family members from all over the state coming together in one place makes the event much larger than, say, a basketball game between two teams, he indicated. Campbell explained that sports players also get tested for COVID-19 ahead of time, whereas choir and band members do not.

Read: Syracuse High School to allow theater performance, band, choir and orchestra concerts

He said health and safety is their number one concern, and that they are also trying to give students the best experience they can.

Campbell acknowledged that the UMEA is giving the large choirs, orchestras, and bands the option to hold in-person region festivals, but even so, he talked about how those events will likely be few and far between, and look much different than normal.

A live event can only take place if a county health department is okay with it and it works for travel, he said.

Some regions are in small, rural areas, Campbell said, with only a few schools and a small number of kids.

For the region he teaches in, which includes Woods Cross, Campbell said they won't have one big region event.

"Instead of having all the schools in a region come together, we're going to do an exchange-- like one school to the other school," he explained. "So we can limit the amount of kids, so we can have space."

Campbell expects that most regions will still elect to host virtual festivals, and he said the UMEA state festival will be held online.

Raine has ideas on how region solo and ensemble festivals could still work with Covid-19 precautions. She suggested designating certain days for groups like chamber choirs to perform, and then setting up time slots for each chamber choir to come in.

Raine, Ethan and Sophi are pouring their heart and souls into their passion of singing together, live.

"Even if we just get to see other schools and just perform for other people, and just have our work validated in that sense. That's all I want," Ethan said. "I just want this connection to be there with people who have put their lives into singing, and they can share can it with each other. That's what I want to see."