Seven multitalented students at Benet Academy will bring the Lisle school statewide recognition in the performing arts.
Roughly 25,000 students from 1,500 schools across nine geographic districts in Illinois began the two-audition processes to qualify to perform at the Illinois Music Educators Association All-State Conference running Jan. 26-29 in Peoria. Five Benet students were selected among the cream of the crop.
Meanwhile, two additional Benet students began a different selection process in May, with auditions that drew roughly 400 drama students. Callbacks narrowed the field to a cast of 26 for the All-State production of "Into The Woods" at the annual Illinois High School Theatre Festival in early January.
Meet sophomore Scott Johnston, 15, who ranks in the top four violinists in the ninth district. The high ranking qualifies Scott for either the All-State Orchestra or the Honor Orchestra, determined with one final audition in Peoria this week. This is the second time the young man from Wheaton earned such high scores.
Scott's musical aptitude also includes singing in the sophomore chorus at Benet.
Senior Lauren Gaydos, 18, performed in the All-State Honor Choir in 2010 and qualified again this year. The Downers Grove soprano values the intrinsic qualities of voice.
"What most attracts me to singing is that you can sing anywhere," Lauren said. "It is a constant source of joy in one's life."
Lauren began in a church children's choir, in grade school shows and in the Young Naperville Singers.
"My advice to younger students is to do what you love and practice as much as you can," Lauren said. "Set a really fun goal, such as mastering a favorite song or being cast in a musical, and focus on that goal with each practice."
Lauren is the drum major of Benet's marching band and a student director of the Mass choir. She also plays clarinet in the Wind Ensemble and is a Madrigal singer, Benet's top vocal ensemble.
Another repeat honoree is senior Lauretta Sterner, 18, who hopes to turn her love for all forms of music into a career teaching music. The Downers Grove alto is in every ensemble Benet offers. She won a spot on the All-State Honor Choir, too.
The multifaceted musician plays violin in Chamber Orchestra, oboe in Wind Ensemble, alto sax in Jazz Combo and Jazz Ensemble, in addition to singing and playing the piano since the age of 5.
"Because I love music, it has always been part of my life," Lauretta said.
The best advice she received encouraged her not to limit herself to a single instrument. She tries to motivate her own violin students by being a good role model.
"It is quite an achievement to be selected twice," said Brian Wand, Benet's fine arts department chair and director of choral music.
Lisle's own Nini Marchese, 17, is a soprano who qualified for All-State Choir for the first time. The Benet junior also plays piano and flute. She is in the school's Wind Ensemble, Concert Chorale and the Madrigal Singers.
"At Benet, our programs are thought of as highly as our academics," Nini said. "I encourage everyone to become involved in music."
Nini had some encouragement of her own from her grandfather Andy Marchese, who established and directed the band program at Benet for many years.
Naperville senior Chris Siemann, 17, will perform as a tenor in the All-State Choir. His musical interests began with the trombone in his grade school band. Although he sang a little then, it wasn't until Mr. Wand taught him proper breathing techniques that singing became fun for him.
"Now it is a thrill to sing with so many talented people," Siemann said. "It really brings out your best."
Chris continues to play trombone in the school's Wind Ensemble.
Senior Brett Bush from Clarendon Hills, 18, is involved in music and theater. He plays trumpet in Symphonic Band, sings in the school's choir and performed in eight musicals at North Central College.
As long as Brett can remember, he has enjoyed pretending to be unique characters.
"In theater, you get the opportunity to experience being many different personas, as well as sharing it with the audience," Brett said.
Practice to him is another opportunity to be in character.
"Just as you level-up in a video game with experience, practice moves your talent along," Brett said. "Practice can be compared to fuel in a car; without practice you can't expect to get anywhere."
In the statewide theater festival, Brett played a baker in "Into The Woods." In Benet's spring musical, Brett will don a 10-gallon hat to become cowboy Will Parker in "Oklahoma" March 10-13 and 17-19.
Senior Allison Jacobs, 18, of Downers Grove said it was "incredible" to portray Cinderella's mother in the theater festival production of "Into The Woods."
Rehearsals included five full weekend practices at Maine West. The festival itself offered myriad workshops, rehearsals and performances.
"I definitely learned a lot about time management being part of the All-State production," Allison said. "You really have to be dedicated, but it was an awesome experience."
Allison is no stranger to the Benet stage. She takes part in all-school productions either working backstage or performing. For "Oklahoma," Allison has the lead role of Laurey.
Benet's performing arts programs have 350 students this year, Wand said. His supportive staff includes Rich Alifantis teaching band, Mike Klos teaching jazz, Chad Ensinger teaching orchestra and Lauren Condon directing the school musical along with Wand, who also teaches the choirs and a music theory class.
The performing arts give students opportunities to add an expressive breadth to their academics. Self-confidence, poise, creativity, commitment, teamwork development and dedication are all important components of a fine art curriculum as these seven students confirm.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. E-mail her at email@example.com.