Aspen High School choirs hit high note with top honors |

Aspen High School choirs hit high note with top honors

Belle Voci, Aspen Voices earn “Superior” rating at festival

Aspen High School choir performers pose for a photo while in Denver in March for a performance of the National Anthem at a Denver Nuggets game.
Erica Nottingham/Courtesy photo

Aspen High School’s student singers hit a high note last week when both high school choirs earned top honors at the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) Large Group Choir Festival in Rifle.

The Belle Voci choir for 10th, 11th and 12th graders and the Aspen Voices choir for eighth, ninth and 10th graders performed on April 6 and each received a “Superior” rating — the highest awarded by CHSSA — for their overall score and sight reading score during the festival.

This year marks the first time Aspen High School choirs have participated in the Large Group festival, according to Erica Nottingham, the choral and vocal music director at Aspen High School. The “Large Group” category has minimum student requirements, and this is the first year the choirs have been large enough to be eligible.

“The choir program is growing,” Nottingham said, and there has been “a new wave of support for the choir program in the past five years to kind of build a program of excellence.”

The program also celebrated another “first” in January when two Aspen High School vocalists attended all-state choir; it was the first time Skier singers had attended the all-state event.

The honor felt particularly momentous after two years of pandemic-inhibited performing arts. Masking was a “huge hindrance” for choirs because “the fundamental instruction of choir involves your mouth,” Nottingham said; she encouraged them to view the festival just as a chance to perform rather than to compete for the highest score.

“I was like, ‘I don’t care at all what your score is, I want you to just have another performance opportunity,’” Nottingham said. “Like, ‘Let’s just consider this another day: We’re going to get up, you know, put our formal concert attire on, and sing and do what you love to do, because now we’re allowed to do it.’”

The top-ranked honor was the icing on the cake.

“For us to receive that, the superior ranking, was really special,” she said. “And I was very emotional about it, because I think it meant so much to the kids, because they then realized that the work they’ve been doing is really good work and like hanging on throughout a global pandemic, and waiting and waiting and waiting to be able to go back to something they love would really be worth it.”

For the overall rating, judges scored groups based on tone and sound, note and rhythm and musicality. For sight reading, judges scored groups based on a preparation period as well as performance in a first and a final reading. Adjudication criteria is the same regardless of the size of each school and applies to all participating choirs across the state.