A performance today will culminate one of the most powerful artistic and personal experiences Justin Lee has had in his 21 years of teaching.
“I’ve been saying to everyone lately that it’s not the journey or the destination that matters – we’re going to get there anyway – it’s the company we keep along the way,” Lee said. “This journey has been taken together, and the company has been fantastic.”
The journey has led Lee, the music director at Heritage High School, and the Heritage Bass Chorus to a performance at the Illinois Music Educators Conference in Peoria.
“Helping them reach their potential is humbling and rewarding at the same time,” Lee said. “ The talent is there, it’s been a matter of helping them focus and seeing that they can do amazing things.”
Amazing things include being one of the only choruses from a smaller school performing at the conference.
“This is huge, honestly. 2023 will be my 23rd IMEC, and I can only recall a couple of other super small schools, with enrollments under 200, being selected, and both of them were mixed choirs. A bass choir is rare, and a bass choir from a school our size is unheard of,” said Lee.
Lee completed an application documenting the group’s history and awards. The chorus then submitted two audio recordings for review by the selection committee. In May 2022 they were notified that they were invited to perform at the conference.
To prepare for the performance, Lee, the students, and their parents had a meeting when the school year started where a detailed, months-long schedule of after-school rehearsals that took into consideration as many conflicts as possible. Some students also took individual voice lessons with Lee to fill in some skills gaps and build confidence.
In all, the students spent around 35 hours outside of school rehearsing for the performance with another 50 minutes per week from chorus class in school.
“The bulk of work has happened after the bell,” Lee said.
Lee said preparing for the performance was a group effort.
“Numerous early rehearsals focused on how to practice, how to prepare, and how to access the resources,” he said.
Resources include practice tracks, pronunciation guides, and great singing models. The students also learned how to come in ready with their parts and how to put the parts together.
“I just trusted them and let them know that we’re going to get better over time, not instantly,” Lee said. “They’re involved in numerous activities, sports, and work, and we worked to balance everything. We actually spent a significant amount of time just focusing on time management. Work smarter, not harder.”
The chorus will perform eight songs including highlights from ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ by Gilbert & Sullivan, “Dies Ira” by Ryan Main, and “Winter Wind” by Douglas E. Wagner. Other songs include: “ In Meeting We Are Blessed,” “Asleep In the Deep,” “The Morning Trumpet,” “Viva L’Amour” and “A Life Well Lived.”
“Of the eight songs on the program, two are pieces I just wanted to do because they’re awesome, two are amazing and offer a way to feature our seniors as soloists, and the other four were selected because they brought variety to the program,” Lee said. “I wanted the chorus to sing in a variety of styles, and no two pieces on the program are similar.”
Lee said that he has learned from his students, just as they have learned from him.
“I’ve learned so much,” he said. “They sing with joy and energy and soul – I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”