Holden Stach is preparing for the performance of a lifetime.
Stach, 15, is one of 250 students worldwide who was accepted to perform with the 2018 Honors Performance Series at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. He'll be part of an elite group of the highest-rated high school musicians from 43 states and Washington, D.C., in the United States, Guam, Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Qatar and South Korea. Stach is one of four students from South Dakota selected for the 2018 Honors Performance Series.
"I was surprised that I made it. There were over 18,000 applications from all around the world," he said. "I am so honored and grateful to have this immense opportunity to meet and perform with musicians with a remarkable amount of talent. ... It's the biggest achievement I've had."
"He's a very talented, very amazing kid," said Gina Kassube, Stach's mother. "I had faith in him. We were just overwhelmed and very happy."
Stach's rendition of "Sebben Crudele" — a popular concert aria from Antonio Caldara's 1710 opera "La Costanza" — earned him a vocal bass role in the Honors Performance Series. He spent three intense weeks preparing his audition piece, under the guidance of Hill City High School choir director Jaime Kessler.
Stach was sent an Italian book of songs and had to select one to sing and record for his audition piece.
"It was a pretty complex part. ... I've sung in Spanish before, but not Italian," he said.
His audition was reviewed by the Honors Selection Board. On Halloween, Holden learned that he was accepted for the Honors Performance Series. In April, he'll receive music to begin rehearsing for the performance at Sydney Opera House.
"I have to practice that independently. I can play the piano and play my part," Stach said. "When we go to Australia, we practice a few days and then perform as a group."
Music has been a lifelong passion for Stach, and he hopes it will be his future career. The teen said he was invited to audition for the 2018 Honors Performance Series because of his participation in South Dakota All-State Chorus. He has studied piano since age 7, played percussion since fifth grade and plays guitar. He performed in the 2016 and 2017 All-State Choruses and the 2016 South Dakota Junior Honors Chorus. He sings in the Hill City High School choir and is a former member of the Shrine of Democracy Men's Barbershop Chorus. He also has performed and done sound engineering at the High Country Guest Ranch open stage near Hill City.
"We have a studio in our house comprised of stuff Holden's bought to mix music and play piano. He'd much rather be playing music," Kassube said.
Stach and the other students in the 2018 Honors Performance Series will spend six days in Sydney in July. They'll have the opportunity to learn from world-renowned conductors, sight-see in Sydney and give a concert on July 21.
To cover the costs of travel and participation in the 2018 Honors Performance Series, Stach wants to raise $18,500 by mid-May. Fundraising has already begun. Holden's aunt, Jamie Stach, opened a gofundme account to raise $10,000. Anyone who would like to help sponsor Holden Stach can do so through gofundme or by sending donations to Holden Stach, 120 Matkins Court, Hill City, S.D., 57745.
Kassube, an art teacher in Hermosa and Custer, said she and her youngest daughter will accompany Stach to Australia. If enough funds are raised, Stach's older sister and grandparents hope to go, as well.
In addition to watching Holden perform, the trip is a chance for a rare reunion. Stach's great-grandmother, Jean, was from Australia. Kassube said much of their family still lives there, but she and her children have never been there to visit. After Stach's performance, his family will spend a few extra days with their relatives in Australia.
When Holden sings at the Sydney Opera House, he'll perform on the same stage where his great-grandmother once stood. Jean was a World War II war bride who married and moved to a farm near Letcher in eastern South Dakota. She visited Australia as often as possible — once because of a contest she won through Toastmasters. As part of that trip, she spoke at the Sydney Opera House.
"He's following in his family's footsteps. ... He's performing where his great-grandmother performed. It's meant to be," Kassube said. "Holden's very humble. He's a very good kid. ... If anybody in the world deserves something like this, he does."