MPA madness: how the East Lake High School choir program is tackling MPA season

As we spring back from the band program’s district adjudication and prepare for Orchestra, Solo Ensemble, and Choral MPAs, the singing season brings us challenges and reflections upon a whirlwind return to the school year.

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Michael Massen

As MPAs come full throttle, the choir program, under the direction of Robert J. Knabel strives to succeed in winning the hearts and straight superiors at adjudication.

Jasmin Parrado, Staff Writer

As February continues with the spirit of cool winds and revelations, students empty their spit valves, plaster fresh paint on new set props, and hastily stir their microwaved throat coat tea before resuming a year that blooms with opportunity—the MPAs are back in the groove for the 2021-2022 school year.

The East Lake High School Performing Arts program has already begun its journey along attending various Music Performance Assessments at the district level, where judges have sought to critique and assess the culminated work of directors and groups alike. Band has recently returned from their MPA block, and orchestra and choir intend to go on the same path as they rehearse and implement every ounce of work they can to achieve the possibility of straight Superior scores.

I have seen how one program is progressing as Solo and Ensemble MPAs on February 19th become the top priority: the choir program is at a head start, with Men’s Ensemble, Madrigals, Mistresses of melody, Women’s Barbershop and Jazz Vocal among various solo performances taking the reins.

As a member of one of the groups attending this Saturday, I recognize a teetering strain that I hadn’t felt for a good two years. Being an East Lake Madrigal rushing to perfect every note and coloratura on my chord for our prospective two pieces, I’ve noticed our energy and focus has centered in—we’re more adept to catching on to even the most miniscule critiques, and we’re more severe on our approach to the idea of achieving the best score possible. We’re aiming to overcome our flaws as soon as we possibly can; but of course, we’re always prone to difficulties.

“The main struggle is continuing to give your all, even when you’ve been working on the same thing for weeks in a row,” senior and choir co-president Delaney Stewart chimes in. “It’s easy to be passionate when you’re working on something new; we all have to find a way to stay focused when the task is monotonous.”

I oftentimes see this situation play out, all to the extent that students undergo immense exhaustion and desperation for new material to be learned. We repeat the same range of measures in our music, singing along the same verses and vowels, a-r-t -i-c -u-l-a-t-i -n-g the same words and consonants. It’s hassling, it’s repetitive, it’s all the connotations you can apply to it—but it is effective.

This eager zoom-in session on factors of dynamics and tone plays out quite often, all in wake of the various nicks and shortcomings within our music that choral director Robert J. Knabel seeks to fix immediately. The goal is to win the Superior score from the adjudicator or the group thereof—a feat more challenging to do than to say.

In the world of performance assessing, a system comprised of four ratings determines a group or individual’s performance quality: Poor, Fair, Excellent, and Superior. Starting from the lowest rating, which is Poor (with a rather self-explanatory name) and ranging to a Superior (indicative of optimal performance presentation), one or more adjudicators apply a grading system to evaluate and critique groups in a helpful and informative manner. We don’t primarily take to viewing such assessments as competitions, but it is quite instinctive of our vivacious performing arts program to compete, at the very least, with our past performance years; we aim to reach for the highest rating.

Now, achieving a Superior score doesn’t necessarily mean one’s performance is flawless; there is always something to be fixed, and singers upon musicians upon directors have to be open and willing to consider the honest evaluative feedback of the judges. The more room there is for improvement, the lower the score will more likely be.

The adjudicators themselves are not random prodigies of outstanding musical prowess that await our presence in leather chairs and beneath wooden clipboards; they’re teachers and professors of their chosen profession; sometimes, they’re teachers of other subjects or chosen choral directors from other schools that are willing to evaluate and educate us on what we can do better—and yes, we always most certainly can.

On that note, how have we been while getting there? I’ve taken the time to observe those around me as we head through the remainder of the school year battling out our flaws and doing what we can to end out strong; I’ve led my second soprano section through their component of a spiritual lathered in intense rhythmic disposition and a choral piece heavy with dissonance thereafter. We’ve touched just about every base; we’ve revived groups and culminated a working system of handling choir “business” affairs through pure enthusiasm for bringing back something major, something that had been quite muddled by the context of the world through the span of two years. What do you do when you’re rebuilding in the debris and dirt of a year-long hiatus from a competitive singing streak? The choir program just shrugs and says it’ll do even better.

“I admire how diligent and dedicated the choir is toward the music we learn!” senior and fellow choir co-president Maddie Long comments. “We have an incredibly talented group of singers that are capable of learning quickly and applying corrections.”

Perhaps it is the optimism we apply to our work; when we love and care for each other, we want each other to succeed; we want to learn quickly and correct ourselves.

As someone who has been in the program for what will soon have been four years now, I couldn’t agree more with the observation of our attentive prowess for applying ourselves to our work. There’s something special about this year that means more to us; something that drives us to persevere and overcome our issues with greater strength and confidence than could have ever been fathomed long before the circumstances that separated us in the past. With the return of this MPA season, we mark only one of many returns to the most essential aspects about ourselves: our passion. And when we’ve been held back for so long from what we do best, it is only natural that we want to break the wall; and by break, I mean, smash right through it with a giant hammer.

“I adore the drive and love that every single group has, not only for the music for MPAs, but also for the people,” junior and co-publicity officer Avery Depadua says. “Each group loves what they’re doing, and it’s so evident with every rehearsal and performance.”

The smiles and the close bonds of the program bring us to a collective goal that fulfills all of our desires, and the languid deceleration of past circumstances seems like a distant factor to our prospects for success. Don’t get me wrong, for we’re still heavily affected by the COVD-19 pandemic’s challenging limitations and the everlasting implications of unsafe exposure that accompany being performers. We recognize that things won’t ever be the same. But we own and take pride in knowing that we won’t be either.

Now we’re back—and as I know I’ll soon bring my four-year-long high school choir journey to a bittersweet finale, I have to say: we’re doing better than ever.