BHS Vocal wins state's highest honor

by Jordan Green

The Blackwell High School Vocal Department has earned the OSSAA’s “Sweepstakes Award with Distinction,” marking the first time in Blackwell history for the school to win the state’s highest award for choral music.

Under the direction of Blackwell Public Schools Choral Director Jacquelyn DiMarco, the school’s three ensembles ― The BHS Chorale, Men’s Chorus, and Women’s Chorus ― each earned “Superior” ratings in both stage performance and sight-reading at the state choir competition, which was held at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee on Friday, March 29. It was a busy and exciting day for choirs across the state, with a handful of ensembles bringing home Superior ratings of their own.

The Sweepstakes Award is given to a school with at least two of its three ensembles receiving Superiors in both performance and sight-reading. But for the award to be given with distinction, all of its ensembles must earn Superiors in both categories.

For the stage performance, each choir performs two songs. Judges then give the choir a rating. For the sight-reading, each choir is given a new piece of music at the contest that the singers must perform for a separate group of judges.

While Blackwell has won Sweepstakes before, Friday marks the first time for the school to ever receive the award with distinction. The BHS Choral Department received Sweepstakes for the first time in over 30 years in 2017 with Westminster Choir College graduate DiMarco at the helm. DiMarco is currently in her sixth year with the district.

For the stage performance, the BHS Chorale stole the show with “Always Something Sings” and “I Will Arise.” The Men's Chorus delivered a powerful performance of the pieces “Passing By” and “My Heart's in the Highlands,” and the Women's Chorus wrapped up a day of on-stage success with “Fly Away, Young Robin” and “Sing! Alleluia.”

Blackwell High School Principal Shawn Haskins, who attended the competition, said the choirs worked tirelessly to receive the award. He added that the award marked a milestone for the choral department, thanking DiMarco for her diligent work as a professional educator.

“This is such an outstanding accomplishment for the students of Blackwell High School,” he said. “Their hard work has served them well. I would like to congratulate Ms. DiMarco and the choir program as a whole on receiving this momentous award and making our school proud.”

DiMarco also praised the work of the vocalists, saying the award is “a great honor.”

“‘Sweepstakes with Distinction’ is the best possible outcome for choirs at state contest. As directors, it is what we are all aiming for, but to see it actually come to fruition leaves me feeling proud and excited, to say the least,” she said. “I could not be happier to have taken part in this experience, from our daily rehearsal process to our final performance. The BHS vocal students committed so much of their time and talent to continually improving our music, and our desire to succeed certainly shows. I love teaching choir, and I thank these students for their superior efforts.”