COLUMBIA — Hickman High School choir director Matt Felts already misses them.
Forty-five seniors in the Hickman choir graduated Saturday afternoon, ending a three-year run with Felts as their director. The seniors performed a last song, “That Lonesome Road,” and when they stopped singing their voices echoed through Mizzou Arena before fading to silence. But their accomplishments still resonate with their director.
“As the seniors were singing this morning at graduation, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride in each and every one of them,” Felts said.
Felts arrived at Hickman High School at the same time as his seniors. He became director of the choir in 2007 when this year's seniors were entering the high school as 10th-graders.
“These seniors are the founding fathers,” Felts said.
But after three years of hard work, he said, the A Cappella Singers received the highest rating in the sight singing category during a music festival in Mexico, Mo., in March.*
“I’m proud that they have been able to do something that’s not done in the past,” Felts said.
Another of the choir's groups, Les Chanteurs, also won first place at the Worlds of Fun Choral Competition in Kansas City in May. Felts said they enjoyed singing more than receiving the award.
“We went there because we loved singing,” senior choir member Patrick Rawlings said. “Winning was a bonus.”
The relationship between Felts and the seniors has been close, as if they were family, said senior choir member Heather Leake.
Taking a trip to Austria in June 2009 contributed to what many of the seniors called the "family" aspect of Hickman choir. They sang at many different churches and visited Mozart’s house. The trip was another opportunity to build strong relationships with one another, they said.
“The whole atmosphere of getting to know people was a lot of fun when we were in Austria,” Rawlings said.
Felts said he and the seniors were able to develop a “special bond” from the beginning because they were both brand new. It wasn’t an unusual scene whenever the seniors came to the practicing room or stopped by Felts’ office outside class to hang out.
“Students are just drawn here,” Felts added. “It’s a home away from home.”
Hickman choir seniors will miss their “home” and “family.” For senior Matt Howard, it’s the one reason he has enjoyed going to school. He said it has been part of his life.
Leake said she will miss the opportunity to sing every day.
“I’m gonna miss just the structure of sitting down and reading some crazy 16-part song and being able to sing it,” she said.
The seniors will have a chance to meet and sing again as a choir if they join Hickman Alumni Choir, mostly composed of recent graduates. The choir meets every Sunday and talks about music. Felts has been a member as well.
Howard said he would join the alumni choir. “Singing is always great,” he added.
The students plan to seek different professions when they enter college. Some will major in journalism, nursing and engineering, but most of them will not pursue majors related to music.
“Unfortunately, it’s not lucrative to become a professional choral singer in this country,” Felts said.
Inspired by Felt's AP Music Theory, Howard is considering majoring in music education at Columbia College.
Felts encourages his students to keep singing in their life. He said he hopes that all of them major in music, but he knows that’s not reality.
Felts, who has already met with the junior class, expects them to be as outstanding as the seniors have been.
“This class has been so hardworking and welcoming that they have helped prepare the next class,” Felts added.