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Singing his way to the top

2014-01-19 20:57:33

Singing makes Ricky Christensen feel most like himself, and being himself has taken him far.

The Northwestern High School senior is the first student in the school’s history to land a spot in the Honors Performance Series national honors choir

"Singing his way to..." Developments of events

. Of the 10,000 high school students from the U.S., Canada and select international schools who are invited to apply for the performance series, only 300 are selected to perform with the national honors choir in February at Carnegie Hall in New York City. An honors orchestra and honors band also are assembled as part of the performance series.

“It feels like I’m in a dream. … You feel like you’re going to wake up and it will all be gone in five seconds. But you wake up and it’s still there. It’s kind of overwhelming,” said Christensen, 18, who found out he had been accepted on Oct. 31. “I didn’t really believe it at first. My dad showed me the message. … I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”

Christensen’s father, Rick; stepmother, Jodi; mother, Cindy Santiago; and older brother, Cody; support him in his singing endeavors. He also was proud to share the good news with his choir teacher, Brenda Alexander.

“She’s been there for me for everything. She’s been a third mom,” he said.

Under the direction of Lynne Gackle, associate professor of ensembles and associate director of choral activities at Baylor University, high school vocalists spend three days rehearsing before an evening performance in Carnegie Hall in front of collegiate music programs. Students also have the chance to sight see and get a glimpse of life in New York City.

Christensen was nominated to audition for the Honors Performance Series based on his performance in all-state honors choirs and all-state vocal jazz. He jumped into choir in sixth grade and started “taking it seriously” in seventh.

Alexander is proud of her student’s progress through high school and excited to accompany him to New York City for Feb. 6 through 10. Christensen’s dedication has been key in his success, she said.

“Everything I offered to him, he did; whereas a lot of kids would have been afraid or tentative,” Alexander said. “It shows that we have musicians who are at a top level. They just pick the best ones, and he was at the top.”

Christensen is looking forward to meeting his talented peers and exploring New York City during his first trip there.

“When you go into that room, you’re singing with the best people in the world,” he said. “When you go to all-state, you’re at the top of your food chain at your school. But everyone there is so talented. This will be even more insane. It gives you goose bumps.”

Still showing a self-depreciating side even with national affirmation of his talent, Christensen talked about being socially awkward and getting bullied, his family’s skepticism when he first joined choir and being teased by his peers for singing. Music provides an outlet for him to express all of that and be himself.

“It’s the easiest way for me to express myself. I’m not good at talking with people,” he said. “When I’m singing, I’m me. Compared to what everybody else wants, I’m just being me.”

Church was the first place Christensen learned to enjoy singing, and it remains the place where singing makes him happiest. He recently joined the praise band at First Church of the Nazarene in Kokomo.

Looking ahead, Christensen plans to major in vocal performance in college and pursue his dream job of performing with a cruise line.

Education reporter Lauren Fitch can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at lauren.fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.

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