Eight years ago, when Amanda Reeves was only a fourth-grader, she set her sights on becoming the top cellist in the South Dakota All-State Chorus & Orchestra, an all-star team of sorts for the state's best high school singers and musicians.
But Reeves, now a senior at Rapid City Central High School, wasn't satisfied with trying to make first-chair cello in the All-State group just once. Instead, she practiced and trained for thousands of hours to win the rare distinction of being first chair all four years of her high school career. "That was kind of the goal from pretty early on," she said this week.
Reeves reached that milestone this year — her fourth as the state's top youth cellist. As far as she knows, she is only the second South Dakota student to obtain such a high honor (the other was a violist who held first chair all four years more than 20 years ago.)
Reeves will display her skills on the cello today when she joins more than 1,000 musicians and singers from throughout the state in this year's all-state concert at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. The annual event, which alternates between venues in Rapid City and Sioux Falls, spotlights the best musicians in the state and will display their talent in a concert set for 7 p.m. today in the Barnett Arena.
Bruce Knowles, orchestra director at Central High School, said the skills of the musicians and size of the event makes it a thrilling experience for everyone involved, from the teachers to the musicians to those who experience the concert. He calls the concert a cumulative event that obscures the intensity and depth of training by the student musicians.
"Literally years of work has gone into this," he said of the preparation by students. "That's why it's such a big deal to the kids."
Orchestra students must audition each October and compete against other musicians from throughout the state. The all-state orchestra allows a set number of chairs for each instrument. For instance, Reeves will lead a section of 20 cellists. Overall, this year's All-State Orchestra features 157 musicians, with about 50 percent of those from Black Hills area schools.
Knowles said orchestra students begin practicing the audition music as soon it is released, usually in May or June. Reeves said she has practiced as much as three hours a day in the weeks leading up to auditions in past years. This year, she tapered that back to an hour a day.
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"It is so much pressure," Knowles said. "I don't know if I could have stood that much pressure as a high-schooler."
To earn a spot in the All-State Chorus, vocalists compete within their schools for a set number of quartet spots. Quartet numbers allowed per school are based on enrollment. In all, 1,054 spots were available for singers in this year's concert.
Sheri Kelly, band and chorus teacher at Douglas High School, is bringing 12 vocalists to this year's concert. She said the students who make it to All-State Chorus put in hours and hours of rehearsal time at their individual schools. "It takes a lot of dedication because they have to memorize all of the songs," she said. "And talent always helps, too."
Kelly said the experience of hearing 1,000 voices joined together in song is an awesome one. "The first time I heard it, I just sat there with my mouth open," she said. "It was just harmonious. It was beautiful."
All-State Chorus and Orchestra performers began rehearsing with guest conductors Anne Hamre of California State University in Fresno, and Brian Cole of Moorhead, Minn., this week. They rehearsed with the guest conductors Friday and will do so all day today before tonight's concert.
Tickets prices for adults range from $11 for balcony seats to $16 on the floor, but students can get in for as little as $7, according to the civic center website. As of Friday afternoon, tickets were still available for at the box office before the show.