PINEDALE – The Webster’s New World Dictionary defines music as “the art of combining tones to form expressive compositions.”
The idea of music is far more complex than Webster’s clinical description.
“Music is creation and exploration,” said Pinedale High School (PHS) junior Toby Allen. “When you look at the page and see a series of notes – any computer can replicate a series of notes. But a computer can’t give music feeling.”
Music can bring people together, said junior Travis Donaldson.
“Singing is a way to enjoy spending time with friends and other people who enjoy singing and creating something that is pleasant to participate in and also pleasant for people to listen to,” he said.
Freshman Kyle Donaldson found the concept of music difficult to express in words at first.
“It’s a method to get away from stress – an easy way to relax,” he said. “Music is therapeutic for me.”
The three talented singers at PHS earned the opportunity to express their diverse interpretations of music as members of the prestigious 2023 All-State Music Honor Choir in Sheridan on Jan. 15-17.
The vice presidents of the Wyoming Music Educators Association (WMEA) comb through hundreds of applications each year to select the top musicians from across the state to perform in the All-State music honor ensembles.
Allen sings tenor I and Travis Donaldson is a bass singer. Both were chosen to perform in the All-State Honor Choir for a third year. The All-State concert in January will be the first event for Kyle Donaldson, who sings bass I.
On the day of the interview, Allen, Travis Donaldson and Kyle Donaldson had received the packets containing the music they will perform at All-State. They excitedly pulled the sheet music out, already humming some of the easier sections.
One piece stood out – “Fire,” composed by Katerina Gimon. “Fire” looks nothing like a traditional choral score and is a complicated assortment of key and time signatures, sounds and rhythms.
“Seven flats,” said Allen. “It seems like counting is optional.”
“All the other pieces have regular notations,” said Travis Donaldson. “This doesn’t look like regular music. We’re definitely going to have to listen to this one to see what they want us to do.”
A grueling audition
The WMEA’s application process is especially difficult to allow the best musicians to rise to the top. Audition packets arrive in September and young musicians spend the subsequent weeks preparing for auditions in early November.
Singers are required to perform a singing exercise, two scales and “two song excerpts that were from pretty difficult songs,” explained Travis Donaldson.
On audition day, candidates enter a room with recording equipment and an adjudicator, typically a music teacher from a different school district, said Allen.
The process is anonymous.
“You are assigned a number and they record it and rank you on how well you sang,” said Allen.
Most musicians applying for All-State are already at the top of their music class. Judges hone in on the “small, minute, perfectionist details” in their selection, said Travis Donaldson. Preparation is the key.
Allen focuses on dynamics and posture.
“You want to have good (physical) support for your sound,” he said. “When you don’t have support, you’re too quiet and it doesn’t sound robust. Another thing is volume control. You don’t want to be too loud or quiet.”
The challenge for Travis Donaldson are breathing techniques.
“I’m not a very athletic person, so breath control is something that is hard,” he said. “Not only holding it for a long amount of time, but singing loudly for a short amount of time.”
For Kyle Donaldson, enunciation is important.
“You have to work on your vowels and make sure that your pronunciation of each word is good so the people listening can understand you,” he added.
Allen and Travis Donaldson are excited to return to the All-State stage and Kyle Donaldson is eager for his first experience.
“I’m looking forward to singing with an excellent choir,” said Kyle Donaldson. “It’s nice to sing with a choir full of people who actually want to be there to sing.”
Travis Donaldson agreed.
“When a good singer is around another good singer, they both get better,” he said. “It’s like one plus one equals two and a half. It’s so cool to hear the entire ensemble.”
Allen sometimes records snippets of the rehearsal on his phone.
“I’ll listen back a few weeks later and go, ‘Oh, this is really cool! This must be from the performance,’” he added. “And then I realize, ‘No, this was before the song was really good.’ It feels amazing to be at that level.”
Taking music to the next level
Travis and Kyle Donaldson’s older siblings, Parker and Sabrina, both made All-State all four years of their high school singing careers. Sibling rivalry played a role in pushing Travis Donaldson to continue auditioning year after year.
“I don’t want to be the only sibling not to get All-State all four years,” he said. “Just a little bit of reinforcement from my brothers and sisters.”
Travis Donaldson prefers singing to listening to music, although he takes some musical inspiration from the great Frank Sinatra.
“I like to style myself after Frank Sinatra because the way he sings is so grandiose and so theatrical,” Travis Donaldson said.
Allen’s father, Gregory Allen, teaches choir at PHS and Pinedale Middle School.
“Since I was just a little kid, I’ve been emulating my dad,” he added. “I first sang in the car at 18 months old when we were driving home.”
Allen enjoys listening to musicians like Billy Joel, Rick Astley and Bing Crosby.
“I find that a lot of older jazz musicians are really amazing,” Allen said. “They lived in a time where music could be profitable, but most people did it because they enjoyed music.”
Kyle Donaldson also gave a “shoutout” to PHS choir teacher Allen for providing opportunities to young musicians like Honor Choir and auditioning for All-State. He listens to a variety of music.
“I like hearing any people who are good at singing, like Michael Bublé – people who have such a perfect voice and are just so exceptional.”
Jazz is one of Kyle Donaldson’s favorite genres.
“Jazz is fun because you take a song you already know and sort of mix it up a little bit,” he said. “Take a classic song that everyone knows, like ‘Jingle Bells,’ and make it sound different.”
The trio performs in the PHS Jazz Choir, Honor Choir and the a cappella ensemble, Petrichoral, and participate in school and community theatrical productions.
Travis and Kyle Donaldson thanked their siblings and parents for inspiring them to pursue music and supporting their endeavors. Kyle Donaldson and Allen expressed gratitude to Gregory Allen.
“My dad was able to graduate as a music major and is now the choir teacher – an amazing one,” said Allen.
Allen also gave a shoutout to his siblings for helping him prepare for All-State.
Travis Donaldson encouraged other musicians to try out for All-State.
“Always audition,” he said. “I can’t stress enough that there are a lot of people out there who are really good singers who don’t think they are good, and that stops them from auditioning. Even if you think you are a bad singer, you should try out, because other people might think otherwise.”