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CHS student first to compete in statewide music contest

by Garrett Fuller | February 8, 2023 at 3:59 a.m.

One California High School student got to go where no other Pinto has been before.

Dillon Wood, a junior at California High School, sang his way to a state sight-singing bee Jan. 27 at the Missouri Music Educators Association's (MMEA) conference at Margaritaville Lake Resort Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach. While he did not move on to the next round, he was only one of 50 students statewide to qualify for the contest.

Michele Bilyeu, high school choir teacher, said sight-singing is a "fairly new" activity that was introduced in Missouri about a decade ago. Sight-reading is the ability to interpret a piece of music you've never seen or heard before. Sight-singing is not only interpreting the music, but also performing it.

Wood said his journey to Margaritaville began in October, when he auditioned for the All-State Choir. Bilyeu said students sight-sing as part of the audition process, and students with a high sight-singing score qualify for the MMEA sight-singing bee.

Bilyeu later learned Wood qualified for the bee, making him the first California student to do so during her tenure.

From there, Wood started practicing for the bee. Since he wouldn't know what piece of music he'd be given at the contest, he used a sight reading website to create random songs for him to practice with.

"I figured I had a pretty good chance when I was there because I had been practicing quite a lot," he said. "There's a website ..., it's called Sight Reading Factory, and I had been practicing like hardest level for like weeks."

Bilyeu said students can adjust the difficulty on the website to suit their needs, and practice at levels on par with competitions. Wood said he practiced at least an hour each night during the week of the event, and off-and-on before. Because students are required to sight-read in auditions and contests, Bilyeu said her classes practice sight-reading regularly.

Despite all the practice, Wood said his confidence was tested when he actually walked into the room to perform.

"I was feeling pretty good going in, and when I got there it was a lot harder than I imagined," he said. "It was just kind of a shock."

Wood said he only had 20 seconds to look at the music and prepare for his performance. The music itself was only just a couple of notes, so he said it went pretty fast. Two judges facing away from him rated his showing. Participants are identified by numbers to keep their identity hidden from the judges.

Bilyeu explained sight-reading and sight-singing are difficult because, unlike other music competitions, it's not completely subjective.

"In music, there's so many things that you get adjudicated that's subjective, the judges choose what they think about it," she said. "But when you do sight-reading, it's a concrete score. It's one of the few things you do, you either get it or you don't get it. And they get judged on rhythm and pitch, there's no words, they don't sing words, they just sing the notes and the rhythm."

Complicating matters at the statewide sight-singing bee is the lack of room for error.

"It's difficult and ... once they get to the sight-singing bee, they have to score perfect to move on," Bilyeu said. "You can't mess up at all, you have to get a perfect score."

Going in, there were 50 participants in the bee. Only 11 scored perfect to move on, and Wood was not one of them. Despite not moving on, Wood said attending this bee allowed him and Bilyeu to better understand how it works so they can better prepare for next year.

"There were kids who, in our district, who made the All-State Choir that were not alternates who didn't qualify for the sight-(singing) bee, so he scored higher than (others)," Bilyeu said. "We weren't there too long, but we learned a lot about how it goes."

"... a goal of mine is to start practicing even more ahead of time," Wood said. "See if I can find anything harder I can practice with or whatnot, but it's probably going to be more just practicing a lot more intensely."

In addition to learning more about the event, Bilyeu said the conference allows students to meet children from other high schools with a common interest.

"I think it's also good for the kids ..., when you get in All-State Choir or you get in something like that, you're in with a group of kids that are die-hard choir people," she said.

Wood agreed.

"It was definitely a busy place and it was just, it was cool," he said. "Everybody you saw you knew they were, of some sort, they were very into music of some sort, because they were like band kids, jazz band kids, the orchestra kids, and they were all All-State kids. So they were all very focused in music."

Although Wood didn't move on to the next round in sight-singing, he was named an alternate to the All-State Choir.

Print Headline: Sight-singing his way to the top


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