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First of its kind

COLOMA — “All-state” may only have eight letters, but it’s a big word in the choir world, says Lissie Sypian, a senior at Coloma High School.

Last Friday, Sypian performed with 17 other high school students from around Michigan in the inaugural All-State Jazz Honors Choir at the Michigan School Vocal Music Association (MSVMA) Michigan Music Conference in Grand Rapids.

“It’s a really awesome thing and I will never forget the people I met in this group,” she said Monday. “We made great music together and it just took a little work and practice, but we had a great sound by the end of it.”

Rebecca Selvidge, Coloma High School choir director, suggested last summer that Sypian audition.

“(The MSVMA) has been toying around with an all-state jazz choir for a while. Jed Scott and I, and many other people, were a part of this program at Western Michigan University called Gold Company,” Selvidge said. “Our former director Steve Zegree ran Gold Company for 30 years. He passed away a few years ago, but he was a big proponent of an all-state jazz choir. And the state association finally agreed to start it this year.”

Selvidge said Michigan is one of the last states to create an all-state jazz choir.

“I’m not only excited to have this within our state and as something my students can audition for now, but I’m really really proud to have Lissie be our representative at Coloma as being part of the first,” she said. “I knew Lissie has a strong interest in doing vocal jazz, so I immediately thought of her when I heard this was going to start up this year.”

Sypian had to record an a cappella audition, post it to YouTube, then send in the link with her application. Selvidge said she used the audition song as part of Coloma High School Jazz Choir’s fall music so Sypian didn’t have to practice completely by herself.

Once she was accepted into the all-state choir, she got the rest of the music she would sing during the actual performance.

“Mrs. Selvidge would let me stay after school and practice with her some days if I needed help on some parts. She helped me so much, I’m so thankful for her,” Sypian said. “And I’d be singing it in the car on the way to work. I work at Greenbush Brewing Company, and I am usually in the commissary kitchen and I would be singing my pieces while I was working. My coworkers would be like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I would say, ‘I’m going to be an all-state jazz singer.’ I worked on them all the time, any chance I got.”

The all-state choir held one rehearsal in December, then two full days of rehearsal last Thursday and Friday, then the performance Friday night.

Sypian said it was rough at first, but the conductor Greg Jasperse, director of Vocal Jazz at Western Michigan University and who now runs Gold Company, heard a little bit of potential.

“Once he heard that he was like, ‘OK, we’re working hard.’ It was very intense work that first day and I was really stressed out about it just because I felt like I was getting things wrong, but the next day I knew what to expect,” Sypian said. “I worked really hard to be accurate and it was a much better day. It was so much fun and I learned so much from Jasperse too. He’s a really great teacher and it was a great group of people.”

The closest other students to make the choir are from Kalamazoo, Sypian said.

Selvidge went with Sypian to the rehearsals and performance and said it was very similar to some of the expectations that Western has within their small ensembles.

“This was not a 50-member choir. This was a 17-member ensemble, which sometimes means you might only have two people singing a certain part. It really required the students to be a lot more independent and readily available to do their part at any given notice,” Selvidge said. “Jasperse required them to have their microphones in their hands at all times even when they weren’t singing just in case he’s like, ‘now altos’. Even when they were not singing they had to be ready and willing.”

Sypian said this experience was beneficial in another way because Jasperse is who she will audition with next month at Western Michigan University.

She wants to pursue jazz studies, but doesn’t exactly know what she wants to do.

“I would be OK with teaching, but I just know that I want to keep music in my life. I know that’s what will make me happy,” Sypian said. “I’d be happy singing in a jazz diner or something like that. I love jazz. I’m very passionate about it. For one, it fits my voice. And two, it’s a challenge. You really have to engage your brain to sing jazz solo, or in a group.”

She said she grew up with music because her brothers perform around the region as the Sypian Family Band, and her dad would play her jazz and rock and roll.

“I would always sing as a kid. I was homeschooled at first and when I started going to public school I got into the choir at Riverside/ Hagar #6. ... It was fun and sort of got that rolling for me. Then I came here in sixth grade and I’ve been in choir with Mrs. Selvidge ever since. I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s so important to me.”

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 9320357, Twitter: @HPANewman