5 Coppell students secure spots in TMEA All-State choir


Nick Larry

Coppell High School freshman Roma Jani, junior Natalie Bennett, senior Swetha Tandri, junior Joseph Mathew and senior Rishab Pulugurta reached All-State for the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) and will attend the convention from Feb. 11-13. The five Coppell choir students will perform in various choirs such as mixed choir, treble choir and tenor-bass choir.

Nanditha Nagavishnu, Staff Writer

For more than 20 years, Coppell ISD high school choirs have taken part in the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) All-State choir. As one of the highest distinctions for Texas high school singers with roughly 3% of auditionees getting selected, advancing to the choir is noteworthy.

This year, CHS9 student Roma Jani and Coppell High School junior Joseph Mathew, seniors Rishab Pulugurta, Swetha Tandri and New Tech High @Coppell junior Natalie Bennett made the coveted spots.

“When they announced the names of who made it into All-State last year, we were all yelling, and in my mind, it was like, ‘we actually made it, that’s crazy,’” Pulugurta said. “Though it was and will be different this year, I’m so excited to be able to relive this experience and grateful that I have the opportunity to be in All-State again [after making it in junior year], improving myself and making even more memories.”

Though the audition results were released in January, as it is every year, this year’s process started a month later than usual as a round of the audition process was eliminated in COVID-19 related changes. What would usually progress from district auditions to region, pre-area and area auditions was abbreviated by leaving out the region auditions.

For each round, singers needed to learn three musical pieces and prepare for a sight reading portion in the pre-area and area levels. This year, sight reading was not included because of the audition’s virtual setting. The audition materials were provided in July so that after singers registered and chose their voice parts, they could start preparing their pieces.

“At the beginning, I worked on [audition pieces] by myself,” said Jani. “Then, I started taking the help of the choir directors and [voice teacher Emily Ford]. It was really helpful because I got to work with people and hear what they had to say about how I can improve rather than just improving by myself.”

Usually, each round would take place in a local building with the singer performing their piece on the spot through blind auditions. This year, singers were given three days to record their auditions and submit it online, with an option for retakes in their submission.

“I found [the audition process] a lot more convenient than last year,” Mathew said. “When recording the piece, you’d still feel a little bit of nervousness and stress, but I was more relaxed because auditions were online and you had unlimited attempts to do it.”

Each year, the process is a culmination of my own personal growth in choir and I get to analyze my progress and strengths and weaknesses.”

— Rishab Pulugurta

For the area auditions, the choir’s former Madrigals room was available as a place for auditionees to record. There was a microphone and speakers set up, adding to the good acoustics of a room made for singing. Most singers utilized this opportunity.

“We wanted to make sure that kids had a really good possibility of making it,” Coppell choir director Bona Coogle said. “At the end of the day, the whole thing about a virtual audition is that kids can be singing great, but if the acoustic is bad or if their mic is picking up weird feedback, that could really affect their chances. [Letting students record in the room] helped because they didn’t have to stress out about the equipment working properly or if they could hear themselves in the track.”

There are paid summer camps offered to prepare auditionees, usually hosted by colleges across Texas. The camps offer an opportunity to get a basic understanding of the different rhythms, notes, dynamics and diction displayed in the pieces. Because of COVID-19, many camps went virtual or were cancelled last summer. The Coppell Choir also hosted a virtual summer camp in August.

“[Camps] help you get your notes and rhythms down but since they’re at the start of the year, you still have to practice everyday,” Mathew said. “This year, when the All-State music came out I kept listening to the tracks so that I could get the music in my head and become familiar with it.”

Singers who make it into All-State attend a TMEA clinic/convention in the middle of February in San Antonio where they spend three days learning and rehearsing music with acclaimed conductors. Last year, Grammy winner Jerry Blackstone taught the singers and instrumentalists and conducted students in All-State at their annual performance. The clinic/convention will be virtual this year, and there will be no final performance.

“These students work hard and they appreciate music,” Coogle said. “A lot of them have goals that they have set for themselves as musicians, and by working on these auditions they grow as musicians and have a checkpoint for self-assessment.”

Though the audition process for All-State is rigorous and selective, selected students also value the relationships and learning opportunities offered in this experience.

“Each year, the process is a culmination of my own personal growth in choir and I get to analyze my progress and strengths and weaknesses,” Pulugurta said. “It’s a fun experience and is also something we singers undergo as a group. We are people from completely unique backgrounds, but we can come together and share our passion for music.”

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