Musicians Naden, Ervin recognized at national level


After singing her way past district judges and submitting video performance, Abby Naden was selected for the National Choir.

Alex Wood, Reporter

Two out of the 550 students at the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) National Ensemble were U-High Pioneers. Seniors Veronica Ervin and Abby Naden made the 1,100 mile journey to participate in nationals at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Conference Center in Orlando, Fla. from Nov 7 to Nov 10.  The national ensemble contains choir, band, modern band, orchestra, jazz, and guitar ensembles. 

Ervin went to nationals for the bassoon, a double reed instrument that she has been playing since she was nine years old. 

“My family is a musical family,” Ervin said. “The only instrument I knew how to play was a double reed. My sister plays the oboe, so I chose the obscure, long instrument.” 

Known as one of the most difficult orchestral instruments to play in, Ervin’s choice reflected her determination as a musician. Fellow musician and friend of Ervin Kirsten Koehler said she admires her persistence. 

Veronica has a strong work ethic when it comes to her bassoon,” Koehler said. “Aside from practice and lessons, she takes master classes and participates in competitions.

This year, Ervin decided to pick up the violin, an instrument she has not had any experience with. Orchestra teacher Grant Souder could not be more proud of her.

“She has gotten pretty good in a short amount of time,” Souder said. “When Ervin puts her mind to it, it’s amazing what she can accomplish.”

This motivation powered Ervin’s  multi-step journey to nationals. The first step was the district-level audition for Illinois Orchestra Music Educators Association (IOMEA) Next was state, where competitors have to submit an audio and video of their playing. 

“The submission contained multiple segments of famous pieces previously selected for you to play,” Ervin said, “the pieces were difficult.” 

At last, Ervin had made it to the national stage in Florida where her and her family arrived three days in advance to enjoy some Disney magic before it all started.

“It helped being able to relax and have some fun before having to start nationals,” Ervin said, “and who doesn’t love Disney World?”

Once Ervin returned to the Gaylord Resort, it was mostly business for the next few days. The first day of nationals consisted of a two-and-a-half hour rehearsal and a welcome dinner. The next two days, the students participated in three two-and-a-half to three hour rehearsals with only one ten minute break. They crammed in an ice cream social, keynote speaker, and a trip to Walt Disney World’s Epcot between rehearsals. 

“Within the band we had five separate pieces to practice and perform that were all at the university band level,” Ervin said. “Each section practiced separately and although the rehearsals were long and tedious, overall it was fun.”

At the time of the performance, the doors at Gaylord Resort were open to all friends, family, and anyone else who was drawn to the occasion. 

Modern band, jazz, choir, and the guitar ensemble performed first on Saturday while Ervin, the orchestra, and band followed on Sunday morning. In practices and the performance, Ervin was impressed with how good everyone was. 

“You started playing and it was like, wow, this is good, these are the top musicians, they can really play,” Ervin said. “You didn’t have to worry about each note or where you were in the cord, you just got to play.” 

Ervin acknowledged achieving comfort playing at that level that she hasn’t always had when she plays. However, it was making new friends at Epcot that earned her favorite memory from the trip.

“My favorite part has to be our time in Epcot as the bassoon section for band spent a few hours there together and then the last few hours with your chaperone group,” Ervin said. “It was the only time we were able to leave the hotel during the trip, and it was fun spending time with the whole bassoon section outside of practice and talking about stuff other than music.”

Joining Ervin at this top tier level of performance was senior Abby Naden traveled who participated as part of the national choir. While Naden did not join choir until junior high, music has always been a part of her life. 

“When I was very young, my mom encouraged me to take piano lessons,” Naden said. “Then once I realized, ‘Hey, I really like singing, and I’m kind of good at it’ that’s when I started taking voice lessons.” 

Naden has now been taking formal voice lessons for six years. She acknowledges that her success is a product of her hard work and supporters.

“I could list off so many people: my parents for giving me the opportunity to take lessons and audition for college music programs, my music teachers for realizing my potential and helping me grow as a performer, my friends for cheering me on, the list just keeps going,” Naden said. 

Everyone around Naden seems to recognize she has a natural talent for singing. Chorus teacher, Chris Corpus, said she saw the talent from the moment Naden came to U-High. 

“She has always been talented and has always had a great voice,” Corpus said. “And what’s great about Abby is that she doesn’t tie herself down to one style of singing. She can do broadway musical theater, she can do classical music, she can blend well in choral group, she does jazz, she does it all.” 

This variety is what earned Naden a spot on the NAfME National Ensemble. A journey that took her first through All-State Honors 

“NAfMe selects the students for their choral and instrumental ensembles from All-State Honors ensembles, which in turn select their musicians from district ensembles in their state,” Naden said. “After attending the All-State Festival, I was asked to submit a video of me singing an excerpt from a new choral piece. A few months after submitting it, I received confirmation that I would be a part of the NAfME National Ensemble.” 

Naden is Corpus’ first choir student to try out and make it to nationals, and Corpus said it is a tremendous accomplishment.

“It’s a huge honor. It’s a huge honor for U-High to have someone represent us, and it’s a huge honor for Abby to make it to that level,” Corpus said. “I think this will inspire others try out for nationals.” 

About 230 of the 550 musicians at the national ensemble were in the mixed choir. And as soon as they arrived to Gaylord Resort they were put to work.

“We pretty much rehearsed from breakfast until evening for three days, Naden said. “So much time was spent rehearsing that we didn’t really get a chance to hear the other groups until they performed in concert.” 

Before the big performance on Sunday, Naden admitted she was a little nervous to perform on the national stage. But when the lights came on her instincts took over.

“Performing on a national stage was not nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be. The audience mostly consisted of parents and other conference attendees, but that didn’t make it any less exciting,” Naden said. 

The trip was a success. Naden became the first Pioneer under Corpus to make it onto the national stage.

“My favorite part was meeting people from all over the country who are also excited about music. My roommate was from Kansas. The person I stood next to in rehearsal was from Utah. There were even a few students from as far as Alaska,” Naden said. “I love meeting new people and getting to know what other places were like.”

It was a short celebration for Naden and her supporters as she is already focused on the next project. 

“In Concert Choir, we’re always looking forward to the next concert of the year, but I am excited for the senior concert,” Naden said. “The senior concert is the last concert of the year and features all the seniors in some way. It’s a fun way for the seniors to say farewell and leave their legacy.”