MACEDONIA Nordonia High School choral groups earned superior ratings a the state competition this spring.

Choral Director John Pickering said all three choirs -- the men's chorus, women's chorus and symphonic chorus -- earned superior ratings.

"It is essentially like getting a perfect score," said one choir member.

Junior Halyee Bugaj said she feels the high accolades are an important milestone because choral members work hard to earn them.

Senior Justin Bobby said that when he joined choir as a freshman the symphonic chorus was competing as a D-class group, and have since risen to A-class competition, the highest level.

"When I came in freshman year, symphonic had only been to state once and they didn't get the ranking they wanted," Bobby said.

Until recently, there were no plaques on the wall in Pickering's classroom. Now the are eight, three from this year alone.

"Men's chorus just started two years ago and this is the first year they qualified for state, and they got a plaque at state this year," Pickering said.

Pickering said each choral group performs three selected pieces chosen from a pre-set list, along with one piece the students have never seen before, which means they will be judged on music literacy s well. There is only one competition prior to the state competition -- the district competition, which Nordonia hosts. This year's district competition involved 54 choirs.

Sophomore Anthony Strong said he feels the group has become more refined, as the choral group has become smaller.

Sophomore Kaeli Stephens said her favorite performance was of a song called "Ritmo."

"It was very intense, a lot of clapping and fast paced like piano," Stephens said.

Bobby said his favorite performance came from the same performance but is the slower paced "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel" during which the house lights get turned down and the chorus walks a processional to the stage.

"That's always been my favorite performance because it's cool to see all the candles go up on the stage," Bobby said. "I also got to do the solo this year."

More ways to sing

Pickering said outside of the Chorus there are two a cappella groups Synergy and Momentum. Bugaj said the camaraderie and friendships made are a huge part of why she loves the a cappella groups.

Pickering agreed with Bugaj and said "The stuff that happens in this room is more than just music. They grow together as musicians and as a result you have this kind of family unit that develops because of the relationships that are built."

Hunter Daniachw, was new to the group as a senior this year, but Pickering said the group couldn't imagine what the year would have been like without him. Daniachw said he joined chorus after having participated in the spring musical last year and wanted to improve his vocals.

The group giggled in agreement and said preparing for A Cappella Fest each year is one of the best parts but is also a lot of work.

Pickering said Nordonia hosted the seventh annual festival and had 17 groups come from as far as Wisconsin to participate. He said the festival sold out a month ahead of schedule. He said this year Deke Sharon, producer known for the popular "Pitch Perfect" films and dubbed "The father of contemporary a cappella," by Entertainment Weekly and "The harmony whisperer," by The New York Times had a clinic with the a cappella groups.

Another milestone for the Nordonia High vocalists is the release of Synergy's first compact disc "Legacy," which came out last fall. Pickering said recording the disc was a two-year project and was recorded during the festival live.

Success, sadness

Despite their high marks for performances, students say their memories of the year will also be forever marked by the loss of fellow women's chorus member, freshman Sarah Bush, who passed away from complications with leukemia the day before the state competition.

Sophomore Beth Morris, who was one of the closest members of the group to Bush, said she felt like Bush was watching over them.

"With all of us getting ones and superior ratings, I feel her looking down on us had a big impact on what we would do," Morris said. "She was definitely watching down over us and getting us through."

Pickering said he had a commemorative plate put on each of the state plaques that states "Inspired by the life of Sarah Bush," to honor her and her family.

Synergy and Momentum will be performing an a cappella concert June 3 at Nordonia High School to benefit the Bush family. The concert starts at 2 p.m. followed by a dessert reception at 4 p.m. There is an $8 suggested cash donation, and there will be raffle baskets and other prizes.

Briana Barker: 330-541-9432