By Shane Mauldin
Sixty-nine 3rd, 4th and 5th grade choir members fill a set of risers on the small stage at Eddins Elementary. They begin to drift a bit during a pause in rehearsal, and choir director Melissa Ringel calls them back to attention by singing a quiet pattern of lilting notes. It’s echoed immediately by 69 voices, and every eye returns to her.
Ringel smiles. Time to get back to work.
In February, Ringel and her students will travel to San Antonio to perform at the 2015 Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) State Clinic/Convention as one of only two 2015 TMEA Elementary Invited Choirs chosen from Texas in the audition choir category. It’s an elite honor that few choirs ever achieve.
Eddins Elementary music teacher Melissa Ringel directs the Eddins Elementary Choir during rehearsal. The choir was chosen by TMEA as a 2015 Elementary Invited Choir, one of only two in the state selected in their performance category.
“Every year many elementary and secondary choir directors send in tapes to be considered for performance at the Texas Music Educators Association’s state conference,” says McKinney ISD Fine Arts Director Roy Renzenbrink. “Only a few are selected every year. To be selected is the highest honor that can be given to any student performing group. The district is so proud of the Eddins Elementary Choir and their director Melissa Ringel for their invitation to sing at the TMEA state conference this year!”
For Ringel, a veteran music teacher who has been with McKinney ISD for the past six years, it’s not her first time to take a choir to TMEA. She has earned TMEA honors with a previous choir from Eddins as well as two other choirs prior to her arrival in McKinney. But, this one feels particularly gratifying.
“This is my fourth time doing this,” Ringel said, “and I have to say it probably meant the most to me this time. I’ve never had a group where you can tell they have such a passion for it. They deserve it. They really do. They’ve worked the hardest of any group I’ve ever had. I felt like I owed it to them to do everything I could to get them there because they deserve it.”
The Eddins Elementary Choir will prepare six pieces to perform at the 2015 TMEA Clinic/Convention in San Antonio this February.
Getting them there meant a great deal of work perfecting and recording five outstanding audition pieces last spring—a foreign language piece sung in Swahili, a song from Nova Scotia, an American folk song and two lyrical pieces. Ringel submitted their recordings in June and received word in July that TMEA had chosen Eddins as an Invited Choir—information that Ringel quickly passed on to her students.
“They’re bouncing off the walls,” Ringel said. “Very excited. One student’s mom sent me a video clip of her daughter reacting to the news—the ecstatic scream. I’d say they’re pretty thrilled.”
Fifth-grader Brady Cates confirms that sentiment.
“It feels great,” he says. “I’ve been in choir for three years, and it’s amazing to think, ‘Wow, I’ve done this for a long time, and I finally get the reward for it.’”
Now, that they’ve had time to celebrate, the work continues. There are six pieces to prepare for San Antonio—about 20 minutes worth of music—which translates into many hours of preparation.
“Some choirs, they’re just always working hard, and that’s all they do. We work hard a lot, but sometimes we’ll just goof off a little bit. But, we get rewards for working really hard—like earning a place at TMEA,” says Janae Allen.
“It means a lot of practice,” Brady said.
“If we’re having trouble,” fellow 5th grader Eli Ringel said, “we have to practice it a lot of times, even if we get it right the next time.”
Brady said, “We do it over and over again until it’s really good. It’s got to be perfect.”
But, for this group, hard work is nothing new, and since this choir doesn’t meet during school hours, before and after school practice are necessities.
Ringel said: “This is above and beyond, something extra that these kids do. They’re up to the challenge. They’re a very talented group, and their attitude is fabulous. That’s one thing we really work on in here. It’s not just that we come in and sing. We establish great work habits, and that carries on not only in music, but in anything they do in life.”
For 5th grade choir member Janae Allen, performing at TMEA has become something of a family tradition. When she was a 1st grader, Janae watched her older siblings perform in San Antonio with the Eddins choir in 2011.
“My brother and sister were like, ‘It’s so fun. Mrs. Ringel is so fun!’ And, I’m like, ‘I want to join choir! I want to join choir!’”
Along with their dedication to musical perfection, this choir also knows how to have fun, and that approach seems to be paying off.
“I like how we’re always working hard,” says Janae. “Some choirs, they’re just always working hard, and that’s all they do. We work hard a lot, but sometimes we’ll just goof off a little bit. But, we get rewards for working really hard—like earning a place at TMEA.”
“I feel like it’s life changing,” Ringel said. “I received an email from the parent of a former student, and she just wanted to say, ‘Hey, my son was in your TMEA choir, and he is now a 9th grader, and he’s the president of the choir. He’s continuing in music, and he did great at solo and ensemble. I just wanted to let you know what a difference all this made in his life.’”
Which must be pretty gratifying.
“Absolutely,” Ringel said.
Photos courtesy of McKinney ISD. Send school news by email to firstname.lastname@example.org … Our mission is to get you some recognition for your achievements. – Brian Bearden