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Voices rose together on the Kelly Walsh High School stage and then went silent in unison.

The conductor praised the singers for their focus during a long day of rehearsals.

“Wow, what a change we made in that piece in a very short amount of time,” Andrea Ramsey, an international composer, conductor and music educator, told the group of high school students.

The choir was among 400 students participating in the All-State Honor Band, Orchestra, and Choir, held Monday and Tuesday at Kelly Walsh.

All-state is the culminating event for outstanding student musicians in Wyoming, said Sandy Steele, executive director of the Wyoming Music Educators Association.

Of about 1,500 students who audition each year, 400 made it to all-state, she said. The event travels to a different city every year and hadn’t been in Casper for seven years.

“It’s an opportunity for the outstanding student musicians to learn and perform together with a noted guest conductor at a higher level than they might experience at their own school,” Steele said.

Kelly Walsh High School orchestra teacher Gary DePaolo said the students prepare for months for the auditions.

“Being that we live kind of in a cultural desert, this is probably one of the only opportunities that orchestra and band and choir kids have to go to what is essentially a state competition,” he said.

But being accepted is just the beginning. The students then have 10 times more work practicing their pieces to rehearse and perform during the Wyoming All-State Gala Concert, which ends the event.

“These kids, they get together and they work on professional literature,” he said. “Not just high school level stuff — things the Berlin Philharmonic or London Symphony would be playing. And they’re high school kids, so a lot of them, it’s their first experience with music that’s on this caliber.”

Many of the students come from small school music programs, where a band or orchestra may only have 15 or 20 members, he said.

“And they come here into this giant ocean of an ensemble,” he said. “Basically, it’s a great experience for them.”

After his students go to all-state, DePaolo notices they sound much better for a while, and some continue practicing more. They’re motivated to maintain and build the skills they developed as they prepared for all-state.

The All-State Honor choir took a break from singing during rehearsal with guest conductor Ramsey, who asked them why they sing. There are much easier things to do than memorize a complex song or sing in German, she said.

“There are lots of things you can do that are much easier than working this hard,” she said.

Their answers included self-expression, escape, to feel part of something bigger than themselves and feeling it’s part of their my identity, as well as to help others.

Newcastle High School senior Kolby Pisciotti said he rehearsed music at school every weekday and he practiced at home for auditions. It’s his second year in All-State.

“This is very, very, very different,” he said. “A lot more dedication, a lot more participation and feeling toward the music than my home choir.”

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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