Vocal music students shine at regional competition
Tonganoxie High School's music department has made an all-around transformation during the last three years.
Last week at regionals, students qualified in 22 competitions for state competition, which will be held next week in Salina.
Gordon Lankenau, vocal music teacher, was impressed.
"From what I understand, that's monumental," Lankenau said.
Or, as accompanist Carolyn Day said: "That's sort of like winning the Super Bowl."
The high school has two vocal music classes. Chieftain Singers has 16 students and 11 students are in the chorus, the majority of whom are freshmen.
Surprisingly, Lankenau said, the small classes are a plus.
"Our numbers are small, but there's strength in small numbers," Lankenau said. "By being small because it makes it so all the students have to be strong there's no place to hide. They have to stand on their own."
In the past three years since Lankenau began teaching vocal music and Charles VanMiddlesworth took over as band instructor, the vocal music and band classes have seen successes. And in the process, students in these programs, and the instructors, are gaining notoriety at the school.
"There are banners around the school congratulating the singers, like they do for sports," Day said. "By golly, the music has all the spirit, too. It's kind of like 'The Music Man,' or, 'The Music Men,' have come to town."
But Lankenau declines to take the credit for his students' success.
"We've known all along the kind of talent we had here," Lankenau said. "But it wasn't until the kids got the recognition that they started believing that."
Nicole Curran, a senior in Lankenau's Chieftain Singers group, agreed that vocal music students are even more enthusiastic now.
"It's really picking up," Curran said. "And we're starting to get a lot more notice for what we're doing."
Lankenau equates choir to a team sport.
"You have to work together as a team," Lankenau said. "A chain is no stronger than the weakest link, and nobody wants to be the weak link."
Courtney Hoffhines, a sophomore, agreed that there's a strong feeling of teamwork among singers.
"Everybody here wants to do well," Hoffhines said. "We all have kind of a common goal to do well and we're all working on that together."
Also, Hoffhines said, Lankenau encourages them.
"Even if we're having a bad day, he keeps trying, and we can come in before and after school to practice and he's here," Hoffhines said. "He's a real good teacher."
But Brooke Ojala said even a good teacher can only take the students so far.
"It's more of a peer thing," she said. "We all want to do good the underclassmen want to live up to the seniors' expectations."
Moreover, the students say they appreciate Carolyn Day, piano accompanist to Lankenau's classes for two years.
"Oh she's sooooo sweet," four girls say in chorus when talking about Day.
"She's our friend," said Curran. "She encourages us a lot and she doesn't get mad and yell she helps us and she does it in a nice way."
Hoffhines added, "Gosh, we wouldn't be able to do anything without her."
Ojala said, "She doesn't have anything mean to say about anybody."
And Kim Larson added: "She wants us to succeed just as much as we do, and that helps a lot."
In turn, Day had high praise for the singers.
"You don't get those awards without working hard," Day said. "They've been working hard, and they have a high maturity level, and that helps, too."
Lankenau again stressed the talent of the students.
"The thing is, it's always been there," he said. "It was just a matter of getting it out."