MURPHYSBORO — After a few vocal exercises to warm up their voice, Murphysboro Middle School Chorus was ready to rehearse Tuesday afternoon.

“What did we talk about yesterday?" Music Teacher Jessica White asked her students.

“Enunciating consonants,” a student answered.

“Which ones?” White asked.

The answers were the 'k' in keep, 's' in lamps and 't' in trimmed for the song, “Trim Your Lamps, Keep Them Burning.”

The chorus is working extra hard this week to prepare for its performance at the Illinois Music Educators Association Conference.

“We are one of three middle school choirs in the state chosen to perform at the Illinois Music Education Conference. I told them this is the highest honor an ensemble can receive in Illinois,” White said.

The chorus will perform at 8:15 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at the conference in Peoria.

Several eighth graders who are members of the chorus shared their thoughts on going to state.

Ben Barringer said this is a big accomplishment for the chorus and the first time the school has been chosen to perform at state.

“In Peoria, we will sing in front of every music teacher in the state,” he said.

He added that having Mrs. White as their music teacher is a plus for the chorus. She is a good teacher and helps choir members grow their skills.

In addition to chorus, Aaron Sanders is a member of the basketball, track and baseball teams, as well as the Beta Club. He talked about the spiritual song they rehearsed on Tuesday, saying it is not a sad song.

“It’s a happy song," Aaron said, "full of hope."

He, along with his classmates, is very excited to be headed to Peoria.

Lauren Gray has been singing since she learned to talk, and is a three-year member of the middle school chorus.

“I am very excited because this is one of the highest honors a choir can receive,” Gray said.

According to Lauren, the chorus will sing two African songs and one song that includes Latin.

“Choir has definitely given me better taste in music, including music from all over the world,” Lauren said.

Kealey Cheatham is proud because she and her classmates are doing something that the school has not done before — performing at state.

“With chorus, you get to take part in something that keeps you involved at school, and you can do it outside of school, too,” Kealey said. “The best part is making friends you wouldn’t otherwise make.”

White had to submit recordings, an application with information about the school and choir, pictures and letters of recommendation.

Melissa Gustafson-Hinds, the District 6 president of IMEA, sent a letter congratulating the school on its achievement, saying, “... congratulations to your students, school and to Mrs. Jessica White for this honor.”

The chorus will compete in Branson at the Music in the Parks Festival in May, and they are fundraising for that trip. Donations may be sent to Murphysboro Middle School, 2125 Spruce St., Murphysboro, IL 62966.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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