Gold Medal Performers: The Hornell High School Vocal Music Program wins national honors

image of student chorusBy JOHN ANDERSON

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When the 95 students from the Hornell High School Vocal Music program travelled to Washington, D.C. to compete in the WorldStrides Onstage Choral Competition Trip earlier this month, little did they know they would be coming home with a full fire truck escort.

After competing in four categories with the Senior High Choir, Jazz Choir, Treble Choir and Chamber Choir, the students got a workout attending the WorldStrides Awards Ceremony at Westfield Marriott Hotel in Chantilly, Va.

In a record-setting year, Hornell won the Gold in Senior High Choir and much more.


    • Treble Choir: Gold
    • Jazz Choir: Gold
    • Senior High Choir: Gold
    • Sweepstakes Award: Best Choral Program at Festival
    • Sweepstakes Award: Best Overall Choir: Jazz Choir (1st of 8 choirs)

And if that wasn’t enough, the individual honors started piling up as well.

Seniors Hannah Newark and Joshua Plank were honored with Maestro (Solo) Awards, which are given to students who display extraordinary musical ability and sensitivity.

And the biggest award, the Ovation Award, went to Hornell senior John Mikolajczyk. The Ovation Award is given to one student at the festival whose contributions to their music program transcends the making of music. This student represents the spirit of determination, inspiration, and service to others.

“I am so unbelievably proud of our students. They are filled with determination and desire — strength and compassion — a steadfast belief that what they do matters not just for themselves, but for those around them,” said Christopher J. van Leeuwen, the Hornell High School Director of Vocal Music. “I don’t think many people realize that performing on that level for that length of time is incredibly taxing on a performer, both physically and emotionally.

“The literature demands us to contemplate the death of loved ones, the struggle and contradictions that exist between our hearts and minds, and to reach for a deep and profound acceptance of questioning the many facets of the human experience,” van Leeuwen said. “These trips are far more than just ‘getting out of class.’ We do our best to reach for lessons and experiences that extend far beyond the limitations of a classroom and we do it with a common goal, simultaneously.”

Mikolajczyk said he could feel the emotions in the choir and the audience when the choir performed the last song of the competition, “The Awakening” by Joseph Martin. When Martin was in high school, his vocal teacher was brutally murdered in her classroom and he wrote the song about the awakening from the bad dream.

“I enjoyed the Awakening the most. It was the very last song and the last song the judges would hear that day,” Mikolajczyk said. “There is a part toward the end where there are cascading notes as we are singing ‘awake, awake’ repeatedly. You awake from this slumber, this world, this horrible nightmare with no music, which is similar to how we have been without music the last three year. At the end of the song, we all come together and rejoice having our music back.

“So that was definitely the most important song to me and it sounded amazing in the church we performed it in,” he added.

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seven students stand among choral awards