VALPARAISO | For high school choirs, it's like being in the Sweet 16 of the college basketball NCAA tournament.
Only the top 16 choirs in the state compete in the Indiana State School Music Association's finals competition. About 150 choirs annually vie for these 16 coveted spots.
Qualifying for the state finals is nothing new for the Valparaiso High School concert choir, which won first place at the event in 1998 and 1999, and has averaged in the top eight over the years.
This year's choir, which consists of 62 male and female students in grades 10 through 12, performed at the finals held at Pike High School in Indianapolis in early May. Carol Hazen, director of music at Liberty Bible Church in Chesterton, provided the choirs' accompaniment.
The group sang three songs during an 18-minute performance before a panel of three judges, who are college professors from universities in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.
Each judge provided a ranking. Valparaiso received 3rd, 5th and 15th, for an overall ninth-place finish.
All the choirs were required to perform one song they had never seen before, and to do it without instrumental accompaniment.
The VHS choir also performed a song composed by one of its own – sophomore Andrew Flasch, who created “Requiem Aeternam,” a Latin funeral mass.
VHS Choral Director Linda Schonbachler, who has taught for 34 years, 25 of them at Valparaiso, said Flasch's work was on a professional level.
“I've never had a student compose something of such stature,” she said.
Flasch said he did extensive research for the song and was inspired by the works of famed composer and conductor Eric Whitacre.
“It was really cool watching it come to life,” said Flasch, who plans to attend the Indiana University School of Music and pursue a career in composing.
VHS seniors Elise Riddell and John Kotynski serve as the concert choir's co-presidents. They previously competed in the state finals as sophomores.
Kotynski said the choir always bonds during the finals.
“It's always the place where we perform our best,” he said.
Riddell said she plans to continue her studies in music at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and pursue a career as a high school choral director.
In addition to its achievements in the state finals, the VHS concert choir has traveled throughout Europe, performing at choral festivals in England, Wales, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland. The choir also has appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
In 2014, the choir has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall again, as well as at the Mozart Festival in Vienna, Austria.