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Students of note: MAHS musicians, singers taking part in events across the state

By David Barr
Posted 3/22/17

Middletown Area High School junior Sarah Fluke will participate in the 2017 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association All-State Chorus next month in Erie.

She is not the only musically …

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Students of note: MAHS musicians, singers taking part in events across the state


Middletown Area High School junior Sarah Fluke will participate in the 2017 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association All-State Chorus next month in Erie.

She is not the only musically talented Middletown student to earn accolades during this school year. She, Aaron McDevitt, Jessaca Rusnov, Michelle Shields, Meghan Burghdorf, and Connor Leiby all qualified for and/or participated in various chorus and/or band festivals put on by the Pennsylvania Musical Educators Association during the winter and early spring.

Fluke auditioned and qualified for district, county and regional chorus honors at various times during this school year. She previously said her overall goal was to make it to the state choir before graduation. The Press & Journal talked to Fluke before she knew she had been accepted to states during the weekend of Feb. 24-26.

“I’m definitely looking forward to next year,” Fluke said of possibly returning to districts and beyond.

Students audition for districts. If they are selected for that level, they are automatically eligible for county band or chorus. While at the district festival, they must re-audition for regionals. Schools from several counties make up each district, and two total districts make up one region.

If students are selected for regionals, they must then re-audition for All-State. If students advance to that level, they audition once more for All-Eastern rankings. Finally, they can participate in a separate audition for nationals.

According to band director Samuel Fisher, the most Middletown has ever had in states between both chorus and band is two students. Two to nine students usually qualify for district band, and one to four qualify for district chorus.

Fluke and McDevitt were selected for the PMEA District 7 chorus festival in January. Fluke was also selected for the PMEA Region V chorus festival held Feb. 23-25. McDevitt was one spot away from being accepted to Region V Chorus this year and said he will use this year’s disappointment as motivation for next year.

Qualifying for districts in the last few years has given McDevitt and Fluke the opportunity to meet new faces and perform with people who “genuinely care about music,” Fluke said.

While at districts, they are outside of the normal school environment, which means they are surrounded by like-minded musically talented students who are dedicated to their craft and interested in becoming the best they can.

“You get to be around so many people like you. It’s refreshing,” McDevitt said.

Fluke described being accepted to district chorus as “very exciting and overwhelming” because there are 220 students at the festival, and they all have the same talent level.

According to an email from Middletown chorus director Andrew Vensel, the PMEA and the Dauphin County Music Educators Association festivals allow great opportunities for students to prepare for an audition, work on various pieces of quality choral repertoire, meet peers with similar interests from surrounding school districts, and work with prestigious musical directors.

While Fluke is looking ahead with anticipation to her final chance to participate in districts and states next year as a senior, McDevitt took a different approach to contemplating the fact he will have one final chance to be selected for districts and possibly beyond that after this year.

“It saddens me that I’m not going to be able to go these things anymore,” McDevitt said.

McDevitt not only qualified for the chorus festival, he was good enough to qualify for the band festival as well. He was selected for both the PMEA Upper District 7 Band festival, held Feb. 10-11, and the PMEA Region V Band festival, scheduled for March 23-25.

McDevitt qualified for regionals as a sophomore last year and came just short of qualifying for states with his clarinet. As far as returning to regionals, he has his eyes on higher goals.

“It gives me another shot at making states,” McDevitt said.

Joining McDevitt in the Upper District 7 Band festival were Burghdorf, Leiby, Rusnov and Shields. Rusnov and Shields were also eligible for the PMEA Region V band festival. Burghdorf and Leiby qualified for the Region V Band festival, but because they are freshmen, they were not allowed to audition for states. Burghdorf also qualified for the PMEA District 7 Orchestra and Leiby qualified for the PMEA District 7 Jazz Band, but again, being freshmen, they weren’t allowed to audition for states.

“There’s always the next three years,” Leiby said of missing out on auditioning this year.

Fisher said in an email Feb. 14 that the students were fortunate to have the support of the community behind them as they advance through the ranks with their scholastic music careers.

“I am very pleased when I see one of our students pursue music at a deeper level,” Fisher said. “These students have put in much time to hone their craft, and it is nice to see them have opportunities to share their talents with some of the best student musicians from across the state.” 

Both Leiby and Burghdorf earned first chair for their instruments (trumpet for Burghdorf; alto saxophone for Leiby) at the Region V Band festival. Next year as sophomores, they will be able to compete for those prime slots and they will face steep competition from older students who want to outperform them. As Burghdorf said, there is “more pressure to stay at the top.”

Next year, they audition for more than just personal pride; they will audition for their school’s honor.

“We do have added pressure to make regionals because regionals will be in this school next year,” Burghdorf said.

“It would be pretty cool to move on, and it’s been pretty cool so far,” Leiby said.

Rusnov and Shields are seniors and both qualified for both districts and regionals on the clarinet (Rusnov playing a E-flat contra alto clarinet and Shields playing an E-flat soprano clarinet).

Shields described the emotion of being selected as “scary and exciting at the same time,” because both she and Rusnov were the only ones playing those particular types of clarinets, which means they were on their own when it came to learning and playing the music. They didn’t have anyone else at the festival to turn to for advice.

Even more impressive is that this is Shield’s first year auditioning. Fisher asked her to because of the loss of a graduating senior who had also played an E-flat soprano clarinet. Rusnov had auditioned all three previous years with two different instruments and failed to qualify all three times, so this was her final chance to be accepted.

“I finally made it my senior year,” Rusnov said.