RUMFORD – Mountain Valley High School concerts showcase a wide range of musical talent from the chorus, band and “special performances.” Special performances are small groups of students who collaborate to provide an exceptional musical piece. It takes permission and practice to be a special performer.
Michael Prescott directs the high school band and chorus and challenges his students to try new music and arrangements.
“To get ready, I find a song I like that’s in my vocal range,” said senior Tory Gordon. “I practice and bring it to Mr. Prescott. He picks people who will do the instrumental and we start collaborating. We practice a lot.”
Gordon and her sister, Morgan, sang “Donnie and Johnny” by Pearl and the Beard at the winter concert. They were accompanied by Erich Zurhorst on the keyboard, Alex Witas on bass guitar, Tyler Smith on drums and Alexa Fryover, Cody Smith and Nick Williams clapping the rhythm.
Senior chorus member Heather Durfee said, “People not in chorus have to audition with Mr. Prescott. It’s all about what you are capable of and what Mr. Prescott thinks you are capable of. You have to take the time practice with the band. It’s a lot of time. It forces you to come out of your shell. Everyone who does a solo is passionate about it and you work with other passionate people.”
Durfee received a standing ovation for her performance of “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry. She was joined by Zurhorst on the keyboard, Witas on bass guitar and Smith on percussion. Special guests included MVHS alumnus Stephen Garrido on the guitar and Principal Matt Gilbert on the mandolin.
Alex Witas considers himself a multi instrumentalist. He plays bass guitar, guitar, piano and drums and is learning to play the trombone. He also sings in the chorus. The junior said, “It takes more advanced students if you want to be in special performance. You have to talk to Mr. Prescott and he okays the song that you are capable of performing in front of people. Then, Mr. Prescott goes to his band class and picks the appropriate people.”
In addition to accompanying other performers, Senior Erich Zurhorst sang “Brick” by Ben Folds Five. He played keyboard and Smith did percussion.
Senior Ashleigh Milligan, Smith and Witas arranged “Turning Tables” by Adele. Milligan performed vocals, Witas played keyboard and Smith was on percussion.
Milligan explained her preparation immediately before the performance. “I watch the other people. I sit back stage and freak myself out. When I go on stage, I’m fine because I work through my nerves. I sing barefoot because that makes me comfortable.” For her efforts, she received a standing ovation.
Alexa Fryover sang “Happy” by Leona Lewis. Zurhorst played keyboard, Witas was on bass guitar and Smith drummed.
An important part of Fryover’s preparation is choice of music. She said, “It takes lots and lots of practice. You got to pick a song that you really like so you don’t get sick of it.”
Smith began playing percussion in the band this year, his junior year. In addition to the band, he supported all of the special performances. He explained, “It takes a lot of time and practice to learn the song really well so I can throw rolls in to bedazzle between verses and the chorus. I like to mix up the beats and keep the audience listening instead of playing the same old thing. I never try to be too fancy. It’s not about me, it’s about making the song sound good.”
In addition to special performances, some students perform solos as part of the band or chorus. For example, Senior Nick Hamel soloed on alto saxophone and Zurhorst on the trumpet during “Hijack” by the Allstonians.
Williams, who plays trombone and tuba in the band, said, “While I don’t do special performances, sometimes I do solos in band. Improvisation is the most nerve wracking because you create the music on the spot. I practice enough to know I can pull it off. I’ve been doing it since sixth grade. Practice is the key.”
Prescott sums up the preparation and practice, “It is extremely important to me to teach students to work as a group, while allowing them the musical autonomy that they will need to be successful after their secondary education.”
The next concert will be in May.