What do you get when you take 200 of the best high school choral voices from around the state and place them under the tutelage of an internationally renowned guest conductor for two days?

Truly beautiful music that ripples the air and stirs the soul.

On Monday, the top mixed choirs from Missoula’s Big Sky, Sentinel and Hellgate high schools, along with choirs from Billings and Bozeman assembled for the 46th annual AA Choral Festival at Sentinel High School.

The intensely focused teenage assembly smoothly moved through a rigorous repertoire under the guidance of conductor Geoffrey Boers.

Boers, who is director of choral activities at the University of Washington in Seattle and conductor of the Tacoma Symphony Chorus, didn’t demand his young choir’s attention – he inspired it.

“He has a lot of really good energy and he knows how to keep our attention,” said Megan Snow, a 16-year-old Big Sky High School student.

“He makes us want to listen to him and learn what he has to offer,” she said during a quick break between rehearsals. “And it’s always a good experience to have a guest director who can add a lot of knowledge to our bank of music.”

The day was dedicated to practice for the festival’s culmination at a public concert Tuesday night. Rehearsals will begin again Tuesday, said Jessica Tidwell, choir teacher at Sentinel High School and one of the festival’s organizers.

Although Boers was new to the performers, the music wasn’t.

From the moment he agreed to guest conduct and teach at the annual festival, he assigned the choirs the music he wanted them to work on before they assembled. The repertoire includes “Carpenters of God,” “Lord Make Me an Instrument,” “Desh,” “Afternoon on a Hill” and “I Want To Be Ready.”

Snow explained that the repertoire is heavily spiritual “because for hundreds of years that was what our music was written about.”

After the entire mixed choir of 200-plus singers practiced together, the singers were divided by gender so they could focus on their unique sounds.

During the men’s sectional, the focus was on the song “Desh,” an Indian raga written by Ethan Sperry and which resounds with the traditional scales of India.

“It’s pretty awesome – we don’t usually get a chance to work with a director who has a Ph.D.,” said Nicky Manlove, a 17-year-old Sentinel High School student.

“It’s good to hear new ideas and work with someone who has worked with high-caliber choirs and with people who perform at a much higher level,” he said.

And it’s particularly thrilling to sing with so many others, said Michelle Dufflocq, a 17-year-old Hellgate High School student.

“It’s huge,” Dufflocq said of the choir and its collective sound.

“It feels really powerful. You are surrounded by all these people and you are making this music together – it’s a really intense feeling.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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