Choral students excel

choir PictureAcrobatic voices, elegant harmonies, refined musicianship.

These lyrical treats await concertgoers at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, when the Southern Region Honor Choirs perform at the University of Redlands, in the Memorial Chapel.

Eleven Jurupa Unified students passed rigorous auditions to sing in the high-end show, which will feature 271 of the best young vocalists in the region.

"The kids have worked very hard and spent a lot of time learning the basics of musicianship in addition to having pretty voices," said Matthew Netto, choral director at Patriot High and co-coordinator of the regional Honor Choir. 

They also show teamwork, as choir requires the coming together not just of individual skills but also of each choral section – women's, men's and mixed – and, ultimately, the ensemble as a whole.  "They understand the group dynamic and buy into it and show the good citizenship essential to the choir's success," Mr. Netto said.

The Honor Choir auditions, held in September and October, required each student to sing a solo operatic Aria in Italian, pass a music theory test, and sight-read a difficult passage of music, all completed live before expert judges.

The JUSD students who passed this year's grueling test: Yazmin Mercado and Noemi Reyes of Rubidoux High; Alan Carillo, Taylor Martino, Brandon Reyes-Castellanos, Jacob Singhavong, and Whitney Stevens, of Jurupa Valley High; and Kristina Bowes, Natalie Kelly, Donovan Lemay, and Leopoldo "Leo" Ramos Villa, of Patriot High.

By showtime on Saturday, each of the 11 will have rehearsed more than 25 hours to learn six new songs per chorus in languages such as Macedonian, French and Latin.  Not only will they undertake challenging performance-music literature, but they also will work with college choral conductors, Mr. Netto said, providing a "next-level experience" that approaches the rigor of a professional chorus.

Of the four Honor Choir singers he teaches, said Mr. Netto, "Each student comes to their vocal abilities from a different place, and they come by their abilities in different ways."  Donovan, the youngest of the four, made Honor Choir as a freshman through sheer diligence; Leo had to overcome shyness to share his talent with an audience; Natalie is a sponge who worked hard to refine a lovely voice; and Kristina built on strong vocal aptitude by honing her music-reading skills.

"Students will rise to whatever expectations you have of them," Mr. Netto said.  That is why the instructor requires the 135 teens in his five choral classes to audition for the Honor Choir as their final exam.  He prepares his pupils by teaching Arias, sight-reading, music theory, and tonal memory: "I teach these areas explicitly all year." 

In return, the students offer lessons of their own.  "They teach me that I don't always know everything, sometimes people just need to be heard, there's more to life than singing in the choir, and about the ways in which they learn," the Mr. Netto said.

He also sang the praises of Laila Lewis, choral director at Jurupa Middle School – "these students would not be as well-prepared if she didn't do so much for them" – and Cassandra Foust and Jeffrey Lin, the choral directors at Jurupa Valley and Rubidoux high schools, respectively.   

Indeed, the teachers and students, in harmony, support the choirs' success, said Mr. Netto, who holds a master's in choral conducting.  Choir not only teaches logistics within a group, but also reminds students to think of others and show compassion.

"The choir is like a slice of society at large," he said.  "Everyone comes together and does their part to make awesome art together.  It doesn't matter what political philosophy they have, what they look like, what their sexual orientation is, or what other differences they may have.  They come together – and I think it's going to make them better members of our society."


The Nov. 19 Southern Region Honor Choirs' performance is open to the public.  Tickets are $10.  For more information on upcoming Jurupa Unified choral performances, visit