With a membership of more than 200 students, the Eagle High School Choral Union is a large and often unwieldy ship to steer—but since the 2003-4 school year, Director of Choirs Seth McMullen has been a commanding presence at its helm. Over the last 15 years, his students have earned numerous commendations, awards and invitations to tour and perform nationwide.
In October, McMullen was selected by the American Choral Directors Association for the International Choral Exchange Program, and will journey to Kenya next summer to teach and learn from choirs there. In the meantime, he and his students are gearing up for the Holiday Concert series, a seamless triple-header performance (Dec. 15-16) that is their biggest challenge of the year. Tickets are available online on the Eagle High School page at westada.org or at the door.
What makes the Eagle High School choir program unique?
I think that one of the best things about our choral program is that if you're interested in singing, we have a choir for you. We don't turn kids away, we place them according to where they're at as a singer and place them in groups that are going to challenge them and hopefully help them realize their goals.
To make that possible, you must have a lot of choirs.
Yes, we do...This year we have a non-auditioned mixed choir, which is Concert Choir; we have an intermediate mixed choir, which is called Cantori; and then Bella Voce, our varsity women's choir; Sonous, our select chamber touring choir and then Premium Blend, our jazz choir.
What's it like preparing for the Holiday Concerts?
We spend a lot of time preparing. We deliberately do a fall concert early in the year—our fall concert this year was Oct. 10—so we have over two months of prep time to put the concert together...The rehearsals are pretty intense, but we also like to do stuff with the entire choral union, with all five groups combined. This year we're going to do three numbers with everybody combined, and those are always fun to put on. Trying to manage 250 kids simultaneously can always be a bit of a challenge.
What is the experience like for the students?
They get really excited because it's really a performance, really an event. The thought of 1,500 people over three performances getting to see this is really exciting...They basically do three performances within a 24-hour period. Between opening at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15, and finishing up around 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, they do three full performances, and it's exhausting. But I think they also kind of look forward to the feeling of satisfaction of a job well done. It's nice to see the looks of accomplishment on their faces. And then just the mob onstage after the final concert, just the excitement, the hugging and just the exhaustion—but the good kind of exhaustion.
You've been at Eagle High for 15 years. What keeps you there?
It's never a dull moment, it's never the same day twice...[Eagle High has a] very supportive administration, very supportive families, [and] kids that are passionate about singing. Those are the things that really make it easy to go to work in the morning.
How did you get the opportunity to go on an exchange trip to Africa?
I applied!...We actually got to be part of a hosting last year, and hosted a conductor from Ecuador, and he got to come in and spend a rehearsal with Sonous, our top group. It just inspired me to hear what he had to say to the kids, to experience working with somebody from another part of the world, and I looked at this and said, "I really ought to throw my hat in the ring."
How does the actual exchange work?
In March we will be hosting a conductor from Kenya, and then in July or August I will go to Kenya to their community to work there for a couple of weeks. They're still working out all the details, it's very exciting. It was overwhelming to hear that I got this, I'm just so grateful to the community I work in, [to] the support of the community that has allowed us to reach that level where we would be considered for an international honor like this...I am so excited about getting a formal education in East African choral music. I can't wait.