McKinney, TX - To the uninitiated, walking into a middle school choir class can be an interesting experience. It starts with vocal warm up exercises that sound, frankly, like high-pitched…hooting? And, once the class gets rolling, they sing their way through various chant-like combinations of the “do-re-mi” ‘Sound of Music’ syllables that most of us are only vaguely familiar with:
“Do…do…do, do, do…”
“Fa…so, so, so…do, do…”
Accompanying all this are hand gestures that rise and fall along with the notes.
The teachers guiding this group of middle school boys are Faubion Middle School Choir Director Liz Turner and Associate Choir Director Jarrett Hatcher, and these students make up the current iteration of the Faubion Cambiata Tenor-Bass Choir.
Observing them at work, it becomes quickly apparent that Turner and Hatcher have a gift for keeping their students focused and engaged.
There is, of course, a specific purpose behind everything they are doing, and to those familiar with choir, the exercises are no more out of the ordinary than a football team running tackling drills. What is out of the ordinary is their level of success.
This year, the Faubion Cambiata Tenor-Bass Choir has earned the highly coveted distinction of being named a Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) Middle School Invited Choir. That means that they have been chosen to perform at the renowned TMEA Clinic/Convention which is held in San Antonio each February. To be invited is an honor bestowed upon only a handful of Texas middle school choir ensembles each year—just four for the 2022 convention.
“Being invited to perform at the TMEA Convention is one of the highest honors bestowed on a public school band, choir or orchestra in the state of Texas,” says Dr. Dan White, MISD Director of Fine Arts. “We are both proud and excited that the Faubion Middle School Cambiata Tenor-Bass Choir was one of a very select group of middle school choirs selected to perform at the convention in February.”
It’s a rare accomplishment that Turner doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s a once in a career honor,” she says. “I know people who have taught for 34 years and didn’t get to have this experience. It’s stressful of course, but I just think the reward at the end, especially for these kids, is going to be tremendous. They won’t forget this.”
This choir is no one-hit wonder. Their selection was based on a collection of their UIL recordings performed over the course of a three year period. Being invited to sing at TMEA recognizes not just the talent of one ensemble but also the long-term excellence of the program itself.
“TMEA looks to hear consistency in a program to make sure that this is not just a stellar year where you’ve got all these amazing basses or whatever,” explains Turner. “They listen to see if that’s consistent in the program over the course of three to four years. The guys who are responsible for this honor are sophomores, juniors and seniors now. So, we talk with the current choir members about how this is built on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. That’s true for this group, so they get to enjoy the honor that those other guys brought for them.”
The recognition is part of a growing legacy of high-achieving McKinney ISD musical ensembles. In the area of choir, MISD boasts TMEA Invited Choirs at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The McKinney Boyd High School A Capella Choir earned the honor in 2010. The Evans Middle School Varsity Treble Choir was a TMEA Invited Choir the year before in 2009, and the Eddins Elementary Honors Choir has been chosen as an Invited Choir an astounding three times—in 2019, 2015 and 2011.
For Faubion 8th grader Sam Kille, it won’t be the first time that he’s walked onto the stage at the TMEA conference. He was a member of the 2019 Eddins TMEA Invited Choir.
“It’s really special,” Sam says of TMEA recognizing Faubion. “I feel honored that TMEA likes our choir.”
Turner has called on Sam’s experience to help the choir prepare for TMEA. “I asked him, ‘Can you explain to them what this is like?’” Turner says.
Choir members like Sam and fellow 8th graders Ashton Hernandez and Daniel Nwaekwe provide leadership and help maintain the positive culture that Turner has cultivated among her students. “It’s a huge honor to be invited [to TMEA], and it kind of shows how far we’ve gone in this choir and how much we’ve put into this choir,” says Ashton.
“It all came down to determination and how much we were willing to work for Faubion’s choir,” adds Daniel about their performances last year.
In the Faubion choir room there is a wall adorned with framed photos of previous choirs—group photos, images from performances and candid shots. In the center of the photographs, are the words that capture Turner’s philosophy: “Where everybody is somebody.”
“They always come back,” Turner says of former members. “They come back to go to concerts; they come back and sing at our winter concert. So, we try to create this culture of a family atmosphere and keep it going all through high school and beyond,” Turner says.
For now, these young men singing “do, do, do…fa…so…” are the ones who will carry the torch. It’s their responsibility to carry on that tradition.
And, if you can take the energy of middle school boys and point it in the right direction, there’s really no limit to what they might accomplish.