NMRHS students regale club members with song

TOWNSEND — Audience members sat enthralled as a chorus of well-trained voices filled the small room to the rafters with sound. There was no fidgeting. The only motions from the listeners were smiles and nods of appreciation.

Every year in March students from North Middlesex Regional High School sing for the members of the Townsend Women’s Club. Around two dozen students, an accompanist and their teacher turned out for the luncheon on Tuesday.

The students are all members of the advanced vocal ensemble, said Michelle Blake, their teacher. She has been running the program for six years, and each year the students perform for the club.

The roster of performers changes from year to year. Acceptance into the small ensemble of grade 9 to 12 students is by audition only. A much larger concert choir at the school has 65 singers.

The young vocalists work hard. The advanced class meets an hour and a half each day. By the end of the year a student who has completed both semesters earns 10 credits.

The advanced students will sing in public 18 times this year, at pep rallies, competitions and concerts.

Massachusetts curriculum frameworks guide the education of the students in accelerated vocal class. Music reading, ear training and music history are all part of the deal for these accomplished musicians.

This high-school group has a strong classical sound. Blake said their training reflects the classical training she received.

“I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with them,” Blake said to the audience. “You are on fire,” Blake told the ensemble after a challenging piece.

Some of the pieces featured the women’s choir only. Others featured different singers as soloists. “I tried to throw it around a little bit. Everyone’s done a beautiful job,” Blake said.

The students perform everything from medieval music to contemporary songs. Madrigals, complex songs from the Renaissance era, are particularly difficult.

Sections of the choir sing separate melody lines at the same time. These melodies come together in complex harmonies, which Blake said are challenging to learn.

Initially the students are leery of learning the pieces, but eventually come to love singing them, Blake said.

The hard work of the students and teacher pays off. Ten students were accepted into the Massachusetts Central District Choir, a huge number, Blake said.

Two students, one vocalist and one clarinetist, will be going to the all-state festival and staying in Boston three days to sing and perform at Symphony Hall this year.

After the performance at the Townsend Reading Room, the students enjoyed a buffet luncheon prepared by members of the club. Then, they had to hurry back to school. Their music period was coming to an end for the day and other commitments beckoned.