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OHS Choir going to State competition

By Charlotte Heldenbrand

Overton Press editor

A program in its infancy at Overton High School took a giant step forward at a recent contest.

The OHS Madrigal earned a superior rating, advancing to May’s State competition, on Jan. 29’s Region 21 Vocal Solo and Ensemble Contest at Whitehouse High School.  OHS senior tenor singers Brandon Jackson and Lavotric Crumbley both scored ones on their solos and will advance to state as well. 

Under the direction of Beth Umholtz, they sang “Sing We and Chant It” by Thomas Morley, which is written in five parts.  “The madrigal group is a small group that has two on a part.  The students learned a very difficult piece and learned to sing different parts against each other.  I am very proud of my students’ accomplishments,” Umholtz said.  “This year’s competition was a whole week earlier, which gave us less practice time to be prepared.”

Umholtz just recently revived the choir program at OHS and, while she does not have a degree in music, if vocal experience and enthusiasm counted she could have an advanced degree.  “I have not taught choir before, but I do have a lot of experience with music. I was in choir in middle and high school in Weatherford, Texas,” she said. “I had amazing teachers Carol Pyle and Judy James; both encouraged me and trained me vocally. They are both the reason I became a teacher.  

“I continued in college and sang at Texas Wesleyan University with Steven Simmons. We performed with the Fort Worth Symphony and my claim to fame Mel Torme! We also performed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with joined choirs from TCU, Southwestern Baptist Seminary and UTA.  Then after I graduated with an elementary education degree from Hardin Simmons University, I auditioned for a choral group in Fort Worth called Schola Cantorium and made it. I sang for a season with them and continued to sing at church in an adult ensemble and soloed.”

After marrying Alan Umholtz, who serves as superintendent at OISD, she got involved musically when their two daughters developed an interest in the fine arts. “I sang again with the Arlington Choral Society at UTA. I love to sing and the fine arts saved me in school,” she said. “In Crowley ISD, my daughter Hillary was involved in Honor Choir for fifth and sixth graders. I helped as a volunteer to work with the kids learning their parts and fed them snacks, etc; but I didn’t direct the choir at all. The director of that fabulous group is Cathy Chiles. I worked with her and learned from her expertise.”

With a number of students who are interested in both playing and singing music, Umholtz is thankful for the cooperative staff at OHS.

“Our choir program at Overton began as an after school club in my classroom. Kids kept coming to join us…I never turned anyone away with auditions. Mr. Dubose was so gracious this year in giving me one class for choir; however I share this time with band. Mr. Gamble, our wonderful director of bands, shares this time with me, so those students can be in both. I help him in marching season with mostly uniforms and announcing the band at their half time show for football season.  He has helped me tremendously,” she said.

What will not help education are budget concerns and possible cuts in the state legislature which will impact schools. The choir instructor hopes people will let their voices be heard to preserve programs that are important to students’ growth.

“As far as funding goes, I am afraid that fine arts, such as choir and other classes, will be slighted all over the state. It always seems like that is the first thing that gets cut,” Umholtz said. “I urge every citizen to take a stand for education right now. Let your congressman know that the rainy day fund needs to be used to fund education and our students no matter what club or activity they are involved in. We have to do the things that keep them coming to school such as music, theater, sports, debate, One Act Play, etc.

“Sorry to say to this, but academics is just not enough these days,” she noted. “They need more technology and opportunities that can help reach our students. Research shows that students do better in the classroom and test scores improve if they have music in their curriculum. It’s the left brain and right brain theory.”

In order for schools to teach the children well, Umholtz said politicians must learn to budget in a way that benefits the most children. “Every educator knows this, but funding is always an issue in every school – not just Overton. Now I’m not sure every politician knows this, but they need to be taught how to make better choices for our children,” she said.

She partially credits the success of the music program at OHS to a popular television show.

“I love my choir and I am proud of the accomplishments they have made. The choir has grown from about 10 students to 25 and some days even 30. I knew that to get the kids to come they would have to do pop, upbeat music. I believe the television show ‘Glee’ has started a new interest in singing with our kids,” Umholtz said. “Choir is not as ‘nerdy’ as it used to be, as my students would say. It is much, much more. First of all, it is building pride with their self esteem, pride in their school and the community in which they live.

While two of her choral students are her daughters, Hillary (a senior) and Blair (a freshman), Umholtz said she claims all of her students as her own. “I am so lucky to have so many talented students in this community.  I get the great pleasure of working with my own children…Just ask my husband: I think all my students are my kids!”

Brandon Jackson, one of her students who will advance to State contest as a soloist, has been singing for several years and as a freshman, although OHS did not have a choir program, advanced to State and earned a 2. “I’ve been in church choir for four or five years,” he said. Marsha King, who attends London Baptist Church and directs the choir at West Rusk High School, encouraged Brandon to participate as a soloist and he did. Later, when Umholtz established a choir at his school, he joined right away.

While he does not watch the television show “Glee,” Brandon does believe it has put choral music in the spotlight for younger people. His reason for singing is simple, he said: “I’m just blessed with the talent to sing and I’m using my talent any way I can.”

Umholtz believes she looks forward to music class as much or more than her students. “I feel like this has been my greatest year of teaching out of my 27. I look forward to fifth period every day and hearing that beautiful sound they make: It gives me chills,” she said. “My classroom is the old auditorium in the elementary building, so the acoustics are just perfect in that room.”

To showcase “all the great music we have done,” she plans to schedule a spring concert in April. “I hope everyone can attend. I will be planning it soon around softball, track, and One Act Play; because the beauty of Overton is they can do everything.  You can play football and march in the band. You can play softball and sing in the choir. 

“Sometimes it’s a challenge to find time, but all the teachers and coaches at Overton school are so flexible and support the whole student so it all works. Without that, well it would be a nightmare. But we work together; it’s amazing.”

The choir director has learned a lesson from “her kids.” “The most wonderful lesson for this teacher this year is that music is universal and all students – no matter their ability – can be involved and succeed. Ask anyone who likes to sing with the radio in their car!”

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