Mezzo Devotion sings its way to glory

Newberg Oregon School District

Hard work and dedication finally paid off for the 26 singers of Newberg High School’s choral group Mezzo Devotion when they won the semifinal competition of the International Championship of High School A Cappella.

The group beat 11 other ensembles, including Soul’d Out, a Wilsonville group which had appeared on NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” and Vocal Rush, a group from the Oakland School for the Arts in California.

“This group had never tasted the sweet lusciousness of victory before,” NHS music teacher Jason Taylor said. Winning the largest semifinal in the United States placed the group in the top eight worldwide, Taylor said. The victory was especially sweet because Mezzo Devotion had been edged out last year by Soul’d Out, a group that Taylor helped start as a student teacher.

Senior tenor Sam Saxton, 17, said the choir practiced a couple of hours every night for two months to prepare for the competition. The practices were in addition to instruction during class and performing with the school’s larger choir. “Every night we would all eat at someone’s house to practice more.”

Senior tenor Tim Green, 17, said the choir performed “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood, “Ready for Love” by India Arie and “Encore” by Jason Derulo.

“The first one, it’s kind of like the kicker,” said junior soprano Geni Jeanfreau, 17, explaining that the intent is to grab the audience’s attention. The second song, a ballad, is to show restraint, while the last song is a crowd-pleaser designed to be a big finale.

“I actually came up with these three songs in basic training,” Taylor, who joined the Oregon National Guard last year, said. He remembers hearing one of his bunkmates whistle “Encore” and thinking that it would sound great in the voice of one of his students.

“I have a very hands-on approach with them until the late spring,” Taylor said to explain selecting all the songs for his students.
While some of his students didn’t believe this year’s group was as good as last year’s, Taylor said he could tell that while the students may not have had the same individual talent, their overall talent was greater.

The group won by nine points and singing three different genres helped, as “the group that lost to us was pretty much just R&B,” Saxton said of Vocal Rush. The judges score voices for 75 points, score dancing for 50 points and can attribute up to 30 points to the choir they think should finish first.

“I think it was the most difficult competition yet,” Taylor said.

“We knew that we did well,” Green said. However, there wasn’t agreement among the students on whether they had clinched a podium finish.

One of the most difficult tasks, Saxton said, was for the members of the group to each sing with exactly the same emotion.

“Everybody has to be doing the exact same thing,” he said, or the result is cacophony. Green mused that as they practiced, the hardest part was to dance and sing simultaneously, as it requires two parts of the brain to work together.

The group is hoping to compete in April in New York. The trip must first be approved by the school’s principals.

Story by Laurent Bonczijk, the Newberg Graphic
Photo: Wilsonville Spokesman