Once a year, in South Dakota, there comes a time when you get a chance to win a trip to a concert. YOU are in the concert. But you better be prepared, because you might get spot checked. I'll explain.
The South Dakota High School All-State Chorus and Orchestra concert is held every fall at a selected site. In recent years, it seems like it's always in Sioux Falls or Rapid City (and maybe that's true, I don't really know for sure), but back in the 80's when I was able to try out for it, the concert was held in Aberdeen, Huron, Watertown, Sioux Falls, or Rapid City.
Schools with certain enrollment numbers would be eligible to send a certain number of quartets. Garretson, being in the smaller enrollment portion of the state, could only sent one quartet. The larger schools (Lincoln, Washington, O'Gorman (there was no Roosevelt yet) and such) would send at least 3 or 4 quartets. While I later become a comfortably good singer, when I was a freshman and sophomore, I was still trying to find my voice. I spoke with a deep tone, but could sing quite high and comfortably would sing Tenor II "high". (At times, I would pull off the Tenor I part if somebody needed to cover a note, but mostly I stayed away from that upper Treble Clef whenever possible). The singers at Garretson were quite skilled and there was considerable competition for the individual parts in that quartet. As a freshmen, I had to face my own older brother in the audition as well as a few very skilled juniors going for the seat as well. My brother was a much better singer than I. He was solid and confident in his notes. He knew how to hold a note, read music and sing parts MUCH better than I. I remember trying out, but realisticly not even hoping for one of the spots. I believe that year was in Huron, so I wasn't too disappointed as I had no real desire to spend more than one day in Huron, SD anyway.
The next year I still had to compete against a couple of strong other males for the spot, but at least at this point, I was getting better and there was a beginning of some self-confidence. The auditions went well, but I knew that they weren't ready to pass the torch to me quite yet. Again, though, the concert my sophomore year was held in Sioux Falls, so technically there would be no school sponsorship of a hotel room for the kids going to rehearsels and the concert, BUT our teacher, Helen Mogen, decided that if we WANTED to, we could get hotel rooms at our own expense so that we'd be closer for travelling. By the way, I DID make the alternate quartet that year, so I was in on the travelling to the rehearsels and concert.
One other important aspect to this whole ordeal leading up to the week of the concert was the weekly practices within our district. All the local schools would bring their quartets together and run through the music. Every week we'd meet at one of the different schools and the host school would also provide some food for the night. Most kids from all the schools got there with wet heads having left straight from practice and were starving teenagers. The schools that I remember practicing with were Baltic, Tri-Valley, Dell Rapids, Dells St. Mary's and Chester. When Garretson hosted, the music booster parents threw together crockpots of chili and soup and coolers of soda and water. I believe we'd practice for a while, take a break to eat, then finish up with a little more rehearsing then everybody would get into their school van or car and get back to their town. We would send our quartet and the alternate's to the rehearsels, so it'd be 8 of us and the director. It was always fun to start to visit and get to know the kids from the other schools. Many friendships that still exist today began during those unifying rehearsels.... the fear of the dreaded spot check looming over each and every school as we headed closer and closer to the All-State week.
Spot check was a random selection of 40 quartets from the schools there to be tested by the music over-sight committee to make sure that a standard of quality was being met by the schools sending their kids into this concert. There was always the chance that some school wouldn't rehearse or be sending the kids that knew how to sing, I guess and they did their best to keep them out. Just the fear of the spot check kept me nervous for the three years that I was involved with the concert. Even as an alternate, I was afraid Garretson would get spot checked as I had invested my own time and effort into the rehearsels and a failure by the quartet would indicate that I failed as well. We didn't get spot checked. And going as an alternate was the best thing ever. We didn't have to stand in the risers during all the rehearsels as those spots were for the kids in the concert. Instead, the alternates hung out up in the chairs of the arena, typically near other alternates. We'd do our best to continue to follow along with the practices and singing our parts, but it was easy to get distracted with the girls from other towns sitting around us as well as the fact that as we got closer and closer to the concert and nobody on the "first team" showed any signs of illness, any hopes of getting called up slowly faded away. My disappointment was replaced by a few names of girls that I would meet from different towns. Not many would send alternates, but the local ones would and I remember in particular meeting girls from Washington High School.
The next year, the concert was held in Aberdeen (picture above of our quartet... Scott Smith, Amie Johnson, Susie Hokenstad and myself... the tall guy was the guest director) and on my senior year it was finally in Rapid City. That was the trip I looked forward to the most. We'd get to leave even earlier than previously and we'd be far from home for a change. And by the time my senior year rolled around, I had found my voice and was confident and comfortable singing whatever part the director needed me to. It was also by my senior year that I was very good friends with the kids from around the district as this was our third year singing together in some cases. And I also knew that as a senior, my status had gone up with the ladies... as had my confidence. I was a social butterfly and was on the go as soon as we hit the hotel.
As any free time allowed, we'd roam the spaces looking to meet cute girls. Find out who they were, where they were from... maybe get a phone number. Aaron Gnadt and I (along with Chris Johnson who wasn't at All-State) had just formed a embryonic "rock band" that we christianed "Five Flat Nine" and when we went to Rapid City, we were all about letting the girls know about us. We had business cards printed up (Chris' dad worked at a print shop) and we passed them out to any girl willing to take one. We also brought along a couple of the school's instructional (and cheap) acoustic guitars. We ran up and down the hallways looking for groups of people gathering in rooms that we could bust in on and start playing. We only knew about two "half songs" ("Should I Stay or Should I Go" & "Blister in the Sun"), but we knew enough that once we started playing it everybody would start singing along and then it didn't matter what we'd play. We made a LOT of friends jumping around like that testing our strumming skills and also building up our confidence.
But we'd eventually make it through all the rehearsels and the running to dinners and also the culmination of the week, the concert. We never did get pulled into a spot check and I wonder if Garretson ever has... I would assume by now they probably have (those poor unlucky kids).
The real beauty of the concert was the music. It's music that I still recognize today if I hear it. We would run through it over and over and over and over again at school and at the district rehearsels on those Monday nights. I still know my part if I hear any of the songs and I wonder if I could still pass a spot check if one were to be given to us.
The additional bonus to the concert and to meeting all the new girls and to getting to know the ones from our own district better, was that the event was filmed by SDPBS every year and then rebroadcast at some point (I think around Christmas (maybe Thanksgiving)). I would turn the tv on and relive the concert, song by song, note by note... carefully watching the screen as they zoomed in on the kids as much as they could, and I'd look for any of the girls that I had just met or maybe even a glimpse of myself. It was such a joy to get to take that trip and I'll always hold them fondly as some of the best days of high school that I was able to experience.
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