Central freshman will perform with Opus Honor Choir

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Central ninth grader Raelynn Coanner, seen here performing at the recent fall concert, was selected to perform at the prestigious 37th annual Opus Honor Choir event in Ames on Nov. 16.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


Around 18 months old when she first started talking, Central freshman Raelynn Coanner has long been singing around the house, in the family van and in her sleep, her mother Cathy jokingly said. At two years old, young Raelynn declared she was the only one who could sing inside the van, already confident in her vocal abilities. By age three, she was breaking out into song, singing “Let it Go” a cappella in Sunday school. It was at that point the family knew the confidence was backed by talent. 


That talent started to emerge more as Raelynn entered seventh grade, when she joined choir, motivated by friends who recognized their friend had a great voice. It fell into place further in eighth grade, as Raelynn “came alive” during the year, said her mom.


Raelynn performed solo parts at both the fall and spring concerts as well as a solo and trio at solo/ensemble contest, receiving superior ratings for both. Not to mention participation in the honor choir in eighth grade.


It appears, to this point, the only thing that could hold Raelynn back is a bout of shyness and perhaps the clarinet, which delayed her entry into the school choir. 


Entering ninth grade, Raelynn and Central chorus teacher Stacy Heston, who had high praise for the young vocal star, had just a few short weeks to prepare and audition for the 37th annual Opus Choir event. The process is just a few short weeks after the start of the school year, and with the limited time to practice, they both made the most of it, mostly utilizing Raelynn’s weekly lesson time to prep for the hour-long audition slot. 


When Raelynn wasn’t doing weekly lessons, she was practicing on her own, a trait Heston listed among her student’s praiseworthy skills, right alongside Raelynn’s sense of rhythm and intonation and ability to read music extremely well, which aids in learning more difficult pieces. 


That proved useful during the Opus audition, where students can earn acceptance to participate in the Honor Choir Festival, an annual event sponsored by the Iowa Choral Directors Association. 


The purpose of the Opus Honor Choir rests on three main goals: to further develop fifth through ninth grade choir programs, to take the achievement and pride of having performed back to the students’ home choir and provide school directors with the opportunity to learn from master conductors. 


This year, selections to the choir were made by means of a recorded audition. Over 2,400 students were nominated for just 720 positions. One of those nominated was Raelynn, who submitted an audition consisting of two selections from two of the Opus literature pieces and the first verse of “America (My Country, ’Tis of Thee). 


Each recording was done a cappella, with no accompanying arrangement. The submission rests on the power of one’s voice, which is scored on several criteria such as intonation, rhythm, tone quality and musicianship. 


Raelynn was one of the 720 accepted and the only student from Central to receive the honor, an achievement she was “very excited” over, as was her teacher.


Heston noted it’s not just about being accepted, but about the journey of learning and getting better in the process, in both performing and teaching. 


Music, as Heston put it, does a lot for people. It connects cultures, teaches history and communication, promotes working together, especially in a choir, and it can lead to someone being more empathetic or simply a better listener. 


“I believe anyone can sing in a choir and find something they love about it.  It may be the music, it may be the energy and it may be the sense of community. It is all-encompassing and fulfilling,” Heston said. 


For Raelynn, it’s not just the excitement of Opus, but choir in general, where she particularly enjoys hearing everyone harmonize, along with the fun and opportunities it offers. It’s also where she can perform in the minor key, which is kind of dark, but “sounds really cool,” she said. 


Though she is only in ninth grade, Raelynn already has ambitions beyond high school, wondering aloud if someone could go to college for music. That’s now been added to her list of goals, right next to minoring in the clarinet and Spanish. 


“Mr. Reinhart will be excited because, up till now at every meeting, I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school,” Raelynn said. 


For now, Raelynn’s next goal is to perform at the 2023 Opus Choir Event on Nov. 16, in the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium at the Iowa State Center in Ames, starting at 4 p.m.

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