Chase Smith sings the right notes
Chase Smith, a senior at Wilton High School, was selected to participate in the 2013 All-National Honor Choir, selected by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).
The performance took place Oct. 30 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tenn.
Chase, who also serves as a Warrior Words columnist for The Bulletin, shared his thoughts about his experience, and his passion for music, which began with the Sacred Heart Parish Children’s Choir.
“I remember how each Saturday afternoon, the choir would rehearse a repertoire of carols and hymns to prepare for our two big performances at Christmas and Easter,” he said. “Most of the songs were sung in complete unison, and I remember attempting to harmonize by myself, with varying levels of success.”
Besides singing, Chase has studied the piano since the age of 7 with his teacher, Tony LaVorgna.
“He has taught me how to read both in treble and bass clef, how to play scales and arpeggios, and above all, how to translate the notes on the page into true music,” he said.
Additionally, this well-rounded musician has played the viola, though he also believes it is “the one for which I have no talent whatsoever.”
Initially Chase sang as a tenor, but as his voice changed, he discovered he was a baritone. That caused some confidence issues, as he could not hit the high notes he was used to. In his freshman year, he did not try out for the spring musical, and was passed over for the Madrigals.
His saving grace came from his choral instructor, Betsey deGroff.
“I still remember the awkward voice testing day at the very beginning of freshman year, when I had to sing out notes of varying pitches so she could correctly place me in a voice part,” he said.
He was placed in the bass section, which he said was like finding a home. His confidence re-emerged under the tutelage of Ms. deGroff, and he made the Madrigals as a junior.
“I think that spending an extra year in men’s choir, the intermediate group, was better for me in the long run, because I received the help I needed to achieve success later,” he said. “Ms. deGroff has truly been one of the most supportive individuals to me in this long road to the All-National Choir, and I owe her a huge thank-you.”
Chase has performed with the Western Regional and All-State choirs in Connecticut, an achievement he first attained in middle school. His parents opted to get him a private teacher, actor and singer Rick Hilsabeck, who helped improve his range.
Mr. Hilsabeck has performed on stage as the titular character in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera more than 1,200 times.
“I am honored to learn from such an accomplished singer and performer,” Chase said. “He is incredible.”
Chase began the path to the All-National Choir about a year ago, when he auditioned for the Connecticut Western Regionals. Passing that bar caused him to “jump up and down,” but he was hardly done, next setting his sights on the Connecticut All-State Choir. Each of these auditions was strenuous, with judges awarding and deducting points based on different elements of a vocal performance.
With Connecticut conquered, the next step was a video audition that was sent to the NAfME.
“I had never submitted anything like this before, and by the end of taping and re-taping, I decided that live auditions, while more nerve-wracking, were still preferable to endless videotaping,” he said.
After what he thinks were about 20 takes, he was somewhat satisfied. His mother served as producer and director for the process.
In July, an email arrived from NAfME. The first word he read was: “Congratulations.”
“At the beginning of last year, I could never even have dreamed that I would have the chance to participate in anything on this scale,” he said.
In Nashville, the All-National Choir rehearsed seven pieces that Chase says varied from grand to exotically rhythmic, with intricate harmonies.
A song called Take Me to the Water, composed by Dr. Rollo Dilworth, was special to Chase, because the composer served as the conductor of the choir.
“It was tremendously exciting to have the composer of this piece teach us how he would like it to sound,” he said. “Dr. Dilworth has conducted at the annual A Better Chance of Wilton I Dream a World Concert, in which I have participated.”
Rehearsals lasted up to 10 hours each day from Sunday until Wednesday, which was the day of the concert. Chase was able to visit some of Nashville, including the Grand Old Opry house, considered to be the capital of country music.
The choir was part of the NAfME Conference, and Chase had the chance to meet musicians from across the country.
“I met fantastic singers from across the nation, even from states as far away as Alaska, Idaho and New Mexico,” he said. “My favorite experience was learning to sing with a group of vocalists that had never performed with each other before, and working together to transform tremendous individual talent into the unified sound of a choir.”
Chase returned to Connecticut with a sense of fulfillment as he now considers his future.
“Over the past few years, I have carefully considered the many ways my musical interests could lead me,” he said.
He doesn’t think he will pursue music as a vocation.
“I think that music as a career is not quite right for me, but I certainly would like to keep singing an active part of my life, both in college and beyond,” he said. “Musical opportunities outside of the major are definitely important qualities I have considered in my college search.
“Music and singing will always be a part of who I am, even though my academic and career interests may lead me elsewhere.”