Three Big Piney musicians earn All-State Music Honor seats

Courtesy photo The Wyoming Music Educators Association selected three BPHS sophomores to perform in the 2023 All-State Music honor groups. Pictured, from left, are Emma York, All-State Honor Choir, Chelsea Wright, All-State Honor Choir and Karla Montes, All-State Honor Band.

BIG PINEY – Judges from the Wyoming Music Educators Association (WMEA) sift through hundreds of auditions each year to select the best high school musicians in the state for the annual All-State music honor groups.

The application process is rigorous and the majority of students chosen for All-State are juniors and seniors. To be a freshman or sophomore and be picked by the WMEA is an exceptional accomplishment.

Three sophomores from Big Piney High School (BPHS) – Karla Montes, Autumn Wright and Emma York – made the cut this year. Montes, a flutist, earned a seat in the All-State Honor Band while Wright and York were awarded places in the All-State Honor Choir.

The 2023 All-State Honors Concert takes place in Sheridan on Jan. 15-17 and will be the first All-State experience for the trio of sophomores.

“I’m looking forward to listening to other flute players and how they express themselves through music,” said Montes. “I think it will be pretty cool.”

Wright, who sings alto II, cannot wait to sing with a full choir.

“The choirs in Big Piney and Pinedale are pretty small and you learn to blend with the same people,” she said. “I’m really excited to be able to blend with different people and tune my musical skills.”

York sings soprano I and is eager to join other talented musicians.

“We’re going to sound so good,” she said. “Every part in the choir is going to be hitting every note. It’s going to be so much fun.”

Practice, practice and more practice

The All-State selection process is grueling and young musicians begin preparing in September. Auditions are recorded in November and proctored by a music teacher from a different school. All-State hopefuls have one chance to ace the audition – there are no retakes.

Band students receive two musical selections in September to perfect before the audition, Montes explained. They also play two regular scales and the chromatic scale, she added. The audition culminates with a sight-reading exercise.

Montes spent between five and 10 hours each week practicing for her All-State audition. Playing in a room in front of the audition proctor, surrounded by high-tech recording equipment, is nerve-wracking.

“I take deep breaths as soon as I walk in to the room,” said Montes. “I tell myself I’m going to do it.”

Choir auditions also require students to perform two pre-selected songs and sight-read a musical excerpt.

“The person recording will give you a direction, and you have to sing exactly to the right beats per measure,” said York. “It’s a lot of pressure because they don’t tell you what to do – you just have to do it.”

Practicing for All-State involves much more than simply remembering each note, said Wright.

“You have to put dynamics in there and make your phrases sound pretty, because how you sound is where you’re going to get most of your points,” she added.

Wright and York agreed that the sight-reading portion was the most difficult.

“You have to know your key centers, how fast the piece is and how many beats are in each measure, along with your intervals,” explained Wright.

An early start

Montes, Wright and York each grew up surrounded by music. Montes’ father played the guitar and her uncle played the piano. Her sister gave the clarinet a try.

In fifth grade, Montes picked up her first flute. She initially played the instrument because her sister told her, “Flute players don’t play many parts.”

Montes quickly discovered the flute section wears many hats – carrying the melody, descending and ascending through long runs of notes. Montes decided to step up to the task and stuck with the flute through middle school and high school.

Band teacher Travis Swanson recognized Montes’ talent and “really pushed me to become a better flute player.”

Music is a way for Montes to unwind and an opportunity to “jam out.”

Montes enjoys playing “older fare” and classical music on the flute. She recently joined the BPHS Jazz Band and began playing the tenor sax.

Wright’s home often filled with music. Her parents and grandparents played the piano and sang and Wright’s sister excelled in band.

“I fell in love with music when I was really little,” she said.

In addition to singing in choir, Wright plays the clarinet and baritone saxophone for the BPHS bands.

Former Big Piney Middle School and BPHS choir teacher Ellie Brown recognized Wright’s vocal potential.

“Mrs. Brown taught me to be confident in myself and get out more in public and sing in front of people,” Wright said.

Taking Brown’s advice to heart, Wright sings the National Anthem before BPHS sports events and performed in BPHS’s production of “Oklahoma.”

Music is a “constant” in Wright’s life.

“Music helps me get over things that I may not have been able to get over on my own,” she said. “It’s been a huge comfort and rock in my life.”

York was “raised with music.”

Her parents frequently played “Patch the Pirate” CDs when York was little. York began singing at church and school and made her solo debut when she was 8.

When York and her family moved to Big Piney, Brown took York under her wing. The choir teacher motivated York to share her voice with the community.

“It just kind of took off after middle school,” she said.

Like her friend Wright, York sings the National Anthem at BPHS events and landed a role in “Oklahoma.” She also sang in a production of “Rigoletto.”

York described music as a “gateway for my emotions” and a way to connect with people.

York plays the alto-saxophone and clarinet in the BPHS bands.

Montes thanked her mother and father for “pushing me and saying, ‘You can do it!’”

She also expressed gratitude to Travis Swanson for “giving me the confidence to audition for All-State.”

Wright gave a shoutout to Travis and Angela Swanson, the current choir director at BPHS. Wright thanked her parents for “listening to me practice over and over again” and continuing to offer their support.

York’s inspiration came from Ellie Brown, her parents and grandparents.

“My parents always said, ‘We know you have a great voice, and there’s no way you’re not doing music,’” York added.

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