Atkins Students Selected for N.C. High School Honors Chorus
By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
OCTOBER 17, 2019 – As members of the N.C. High School Honors Chorus, three Atkins students will perform with students from across the state at the N.C. Music Educators Association’s convention here in Winston-Salem.
At Atkins Academic & Technology High School, juniors Matthew Burrus and Simone Seymour and freshman David Aiken work with chorus teacher Valerie Davidson. Davidson is delighted. Participating in the honors chorus is a wonderful opportunity.
“It’s a very enriching experience,” she said. “They get to work with a clinician who is a renowned choral conductor.”
The students will also get to meet and work with gifted singers from throughout the state.
In addition to the N.C. High School Honors Chorus, there is a N.C. Middle School Honors Chorus and a N.C. Elementary School Honors Chorus – each with its own conductor. Students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will be performing in all three choruses at the convention, being held at Benton Convention Center on the weekend of Veterans Day.
For all three Atkins students, music has been an important part of their lives since they were quite young.
Seymour said that music has been part of her life for as long as she can remember. At home, her mother, Benika Thompson, who is the principal of Philo-Hill Magnet Academy, would sing.
Her aunt, ReShonda Thompson, who teaches music at Smith Farm Elementary, is also the Rehearsal Director at N.C. A&T State University, and Seymour enjoyed going to A&T to see the marching band.
“It encouraged me to want to learn more about music,” she said.
When Seymour was in the eighth-grade at East Forsyth Middle, she performed a song she had written in the talent show. She has continued to write songs and has now written more than 30.
She sings at the family’s church – St. Mark United Church of God in Sanford. She also plays the alto saxophone, the baritone saxophone and clarinet and participates in the marching band at Atkins.
Burrus added that Seymour is gifted at “beatboxing,” a form of vocal percussion involving the art of mimicking drum machines with one's mouth, lips, tongue, and voice.
Seymour envisions a career in visual arts, perhaps designing the art for computer games. “I do like computers,” she said.
Students have to audition for the honors chorus, and, as talented as she is, Seymour thought that Davidson was messing with her when Davidson told her she had been chosen for the honors chorus.
“I didn’t believe it,” Seymour said.
“I had to show her the list,” Davidson said.
Burrus has enjoyed singing since he was in the first grade. A highlight of his early years was getting one of the lead roles in a Summer Enrichment performance at Brunson Elementary.
Why does he like to sing?
“It makes me feel really good, and it’s something I’m really strong in,” he said.
Davidson has had a lot to do with that.
“She’s definitely helped a lot,” Burrus said.
As he has become a stronger singer over the years, he thought that auditioning for the N.C High School Honors Chorus would help give him a sense of where he stands.
“It was a good opportunity to see where I am,” he said.
Even though he knows he is a good singer, he was surprised to be selected.
“I was in disbelief that I made it,” Burrus said.
Burrus also composes a bit using a software program called FL Studio.
“I like to mash songs up,” he said.
At the moment, he foresees pursuing a career in engineering while continuing to be active in music because it’s so much fun and because it’s a good way of connecting with others.
“It’s definitely a good bonding experience,” he said.
Aiken can’t even remember a time when he wasn't making music. Over the years, he has found that, when he needs to calm down, music does that. It’s also a satisfying way to spend time not already spoken for. Plus, it’s a good way to connect with other cultures.
Aiken also plays double bass and piano and composes songs. The Atkins orchestra is going to play a piece he wrote for strings called “Remembering.”
Aiken has a twin sister, Eleanor, who goes to Reagan High. She is a visual artist. Their mother, Kelly Hutcheson, is a singer and songwriter, and their father, Chris Aiken, is a poet.
Before coming to Atkins, Davidson taught at Jefferson Middle, and Aiken also worked with her there. When preparing for the auditions for all-state chorus in middle school and for the honors chorus in high school, he worked with Davidson, and she helped him quite a bit.
“She has definitely taught me how to get through these auditions,” he said.
He, too, was surprised to be chosen for the honors chorus. He’s looking forward to it.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I have not had the opportunity to sing at this level ever.”
In college, Aiken envisions pursuing both music and in information technology.
Fourteen students from Atkins auditioned for the honors chorus. Auditions were held at the end of September on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Getting ready requires a great deal of work and commitment.
“They have to be motivated to want to do it,” Davidson said.
And getting ready for the performance at the convention requires even more work and commitment. In the coming weeks, Seymour, Burrus and Aiken will work on their own. They will also work together with Davidson before rehearsing with the entire honors chorus the day before the performance.
“The music they are learning is incredibly challenging,” Davidson said.
Davidson knows first-hand what is like to participate in the N.C. High School Honors Chorus. She sang in it when she was a senior in high school.
As with her students, music has been an important part of her life since she was young. When Davidson was 6, her mother had her start taking piano lessons. Going to a summer music camp ignited her passion for music. She also sang at church and in various choral ensembles throughout high school in Chapel Hill.
She enjoys teaching.
“I like helping to instill the passion for music in students,” Davidson said.
Andrew Craft is the Secondary Music Administrator for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
Mark Anthony Pilson is the K-5 Music Administrator for the school system.
The students participating in one of the state honor choruses are:
Atkins Academic & Technology High – David Aiken, Matthew Burrus, Simone Seymour. Chorus teacher: Valerie Davidson
Glenn High - Brandt Bendel, Jack Shields. Chorus teacher: Carol Earnhardt
Mount Tabor High - Khairi Williams. Chorus teacher: Ross Broadway
Reynolds High - Isabella Ellis, Jack Kehoe, Duncan MacMillan. Chorus teacher: Josh Settlemeyer
West Forsyth High - Micah Carroll. Chorus teacher: Jacob Cook
Clemmons Middle - Jessica Garcia. Chorus teacher: Kevin Perryman
Hanes Magnet Middle - Georgia Anderson. Chorus teacher: Landon Bratt
Meadowlark Middle - Lindsay Truong, Kaylee Stutzman. Chorus teacher: Theresa Kennedy
Cash Elementary - Lilly Bowman (second time participating), Isabelle Anthony, Morgan Lilley, Tyler Vance, Olivia Warfield. Chorus teacher: Adam Mitchell
Clemmons Elementary - Katherine Ballas, Audrey Smith. Chorus teacher: Stephanie Prevette
Piney Grove Elementary - Ella Lawrence, MaKayla Hobson. Chorus teacher: Denette Staley
Sherwood Forest Elementary - Norie Pocock. Chorus teacher: Mary Epperson