Two choral ensembles from Mennonite Collegiate Institute (MCI) in Gretna competed at the largest educational music festival on the continent last month.

Performing at the Music Canada Nationals in Niagara, Ontario, the Chamber Choir and Resonate ensemble sang their way to silver standard plaques in recognition of their high standard of performance. Grade eleven students Whitney Peters and Milo Klassen both received honour awards in their respective ensembles.

"I am very proud," said Jody Friesen, music director at MCI. "In my opinion, it was their best performance this entire year."

The choirs were fulfilling a three-year standing invitation to the event, reaping the benefits of the hard work and talent of former director Christina Banman and students from the 2019-2020 school year.

"We wouldn't have had this opportunity if not for their them," said Friesen. "A big congratulations to that group, the Chamber Choir and Resonate from four years ago."

Friesen describes the process of securing an invitation to the Nationals.

"Every year MCI performs at Choral Fest, which is a provincial music festival. Choral Fest does not have a ranking, or an awards system. You receive an adjudication. The adjudicators can decide if they feel the group is musically very adept, then they will invite them to music fest, the Nationals. It's by invitation only,  and only a few choirs in the province receive those invitations every year, so it is an honour to be invited."

Twenty-five students and four chaperones began their trek to eastern Canada - by heading west. 

"The kickoff was a concert in Crystal City. We proceeded east, and made a pit stop at Conrad Grebel University College, where we spent a few days, and were able to work with their music professor there. We proceeded on to our final destination, which was Music Fest. We performed and hit the road immediately after and came back to MCI."

With a rigorous performance schedule throughout the school year, Friesen says she found preparing her students for the nationals was a little tricky.

"You don't want to start learning the repertoire too early, because you can, kind of, beat a dead horse, so I tried to start the process about two months before we left. We don't get to rehearse very often. It's just twice a week. In the learning, I was trying to get the students to be musical from the first rehearsal, and to be detail oriented and nitpicky from the beginning, so that by the time we were memorizing and learning how to actually perform the pieces, it was just really musical."

At the beginning of the school year, Friesen made students aware of the challenge that lay before them.

"I also made sure they knew they still deserved to be there, and they could still represent the choir that was here at that time, and do it well. They for sure felt the need to rise to the challenge, and a lot of them knew how great that choir was that did receive the invitation, and so it allowed for something to strive towards. I think it pushed them and challenged them in a way that was sort of unique to this year."

Friesen expressed her gratitude to former director Christina Banman, and her students, for their hard work and talent that gave this year's choirs a place at the Nationals. 

The group did some sight-seeing along the way - the Toronto Zoo, CN Tower, and Niagara Falls were a few of the highlights.