RANTOUL — The Rantoul Township High School cafetorium was abuzz with conversations between nearly 200 chorus and art students, their teachers and family members attending the culminating evening event of the 2019 Illini Valley Conference Fine Arts Show last week.
Art students had displayed their work according to medium on tables lining the cafetorium walls. After art awards were announced, the 90-strong mass chorus performed the five pieces they had rehearsed during the day. A full, round sound filled the room.
Teachers from the 10 schools in the Illini Valley Conference had nominated 10 chorus and 10 art students to participate, though some of the art students whose work was displayed did not attend the day-long event. It was organized by RTHS art teachers Laura Billimack and Andrea Cox and chorus teacher Andrea Welty-Peachey.
“This is one of the ways (students) can feel part of the larger community of singers, and events like this help directors become more connected,” Welty-Peachey said.
Chorus students rehearsed at First United Methodist Church in sectionals and as a mass choir under the direction of Franklin Gallo, director of choral music at Parkland College. The students learned five pieces from the choral repertoire, three of which were sung in foreign languages.
Welty-Peachey said Gallo taught good choral technique during rehearsals.
“He is basically reinforcing what we do in our individual programs, but he takes it to the next level,” she said.
The first song performed, “Let the Music Fill Your Soul,” Welty-Peachey said, described the day’s experience.
“That’s what the choral students have been doing all day, letting the music seep into our bodies and our souls,” she said.
As he waited for the clock to count down to performance time, Gallo said the best part of the day was about to happen.
“These festivals are challenging for students and for the director because in a very limited amount of time we have to be performance-ready. From my perspective — I’ve done 40 or 50 of these honor choirs — I pick music the group has never worked before. In every experience I have had a similar result. We come together, we have some laughs, we work on some stuff and we have a great performance,” Gallo said.
“Let the Music Fill Your Soul” is a contemporary piece by Jacob Narverud. Also on the program were “Kyrie,” the first movement of the Schubert “Mass in G,” sung in Greek; “Omnia Sol,” a contemporary piece by Z. Randall Stroope sung in English and Latin; “El Grillo” (“The Cricket”), by Renaissance composer Josquin des Pres, sung in Italian; and Rollo Dilworth’s arrangement of a traditional spiritual “Didn’t It Rain.” Joining the ensemble on French horn for the first song was Villa Grove band director and RTHS alumnus Anthony Napolitano.
“The Cricket” was RTHS sophomore soprano Thrinnagee Sengsone’s favorite piece.
“It was really fast and fun. It sounds really cool, too,” Sengsone said.
RTHS senior alto Ocean Beard preferred “Omnia Sol.”
“I like the message and how it made every part important. There were chords we are not used to hearing,” she said. “It makes my heart cry for a second — ‘oh, that was so beautiful.’”
One experience that stood out for Beard was hearing “all the guys singing with us.”
“How strong and full that sound was – with the male voices it was really cool,” she said.
The art students spent their day rotating through sessions in which they worked on screen prints, book upcycling (old books turned into artwork), self portraits and creating human figures from wire. The sessions were taught by Billimack and Cox, Prairie Central High School teacher Casey McCollough and St. Thomas More art teacher Deb Pagel.
Those sessions were a high point for St. Thomas More artist Hailey Kwon and Prairie Central artist Epiphany Hall.
“I liked having lots of classes with different teachers teaching students their best stuff,” Kwon said.
Hunt liked “getting to work with new media in art I don’t typically work with.”
Billimack said she enjoyed making art for art’s sake with the students.
“I was working hands-on with the kids in a creative atmosphere where the purpose was not a grade or to win; just to be creative and have fun,” Billimack said. “It was a great day. I loved it.”
The art students created a group mural using small, oddly shaped pieces of paper that were combined on a wall in the cafetorium. Their only instruction was to make it representative of themselves.
St. Thomas More artist Lauren Hunt drew her favorite member of the band “BTS.” Kwon drew a horse’s head and filled in around it with random lines and shapes mostly in green colored pencil.
The art on display featured paintings, drawings, graphics and prints, computer-aided art and photography, ceramics, sculpture and mixed media. Works were judged by Anne Sauteman, director of education at Krannert Art Museum; Tyler Sims, Urbana Middle School art teacher; and Brooke Armstrong, freelance graphic designer and Parkland College student.
First-place awards went to Samantha Sipe, Pontiac Township High School senior, painting; Kyle Murphy, Monticello senior, drawing; Kayleigh Hall, Monticello senior, graphics and prints; Raven Bowlin, Monticello, computer-aided art and photography; John Ames, Central Catholic High School, Bloomington, senior, ceramics; Tristan Fox, Monticello junior, sculpture; and Flynn Marquart, St. Thomas More sophomore, mixed media. Best of show was awarded to Murphy.
For teachers and students alike, the event provided an opportunity to meet students from other schools who shared their interests.
“It was really awesome that the kids got together with (students from) other schools to make art together,” Cox said.
Hunt said she enjoyed meeting new people and seeing the variety of art they contributed.
“The best part was meeting new people and coming together singing with them,” Sengsone said.
Said Welty-Peachey: “It’s been great. It’s always so much fun to put together advanced students from all the schools.”