The Burnet school choirs experienced a resurgence in the 2021-22 academic year with director Caleb Blakeney at the helm. He is a 2009 Burnet graduate and a former choir member. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
The Burnet high school and middle school choirs are back with a blast of sound and awards after a 10-year hiatus. Director Caleb Blakeney, who was a choir member before graduating from Burnet in 2009, the last year for the program, gives all of the glory to his students.
Blakeney returned to his alma mater in 2019 with the goal of rebuilding the choir program in grades 8-12.
His faced his first test right away.
“One of the big challenges was getting the kids excited about choir and using their voices,” Blakeney told DailyTrib.com. “And another one was helping students and even parents understand what choir is. It’s not just coming in here and singing some songs. We’re learning to sing professionally. We’re learning to sing in a choral form.”
The COVID-19 pandemic created another challenge, with the strictest restrictions in the spring of the restarted choir program’s first year.
“It’s not always good to try and start a program like choir, or restart it, and then COVID hits,” Blakeney said. “But the kids have been so great and worked so hard.”
Despite the challenges, the high school and middle school choirs have created a brag-worthy program, Blakeney said. He has approximately 22 students this year in the four high school choirs and 54 in the three middle school choirs.
A big step this year was returning to University Interscholastic League contests for the first time since 2009.
“I’m really proud of the students,” Blakeney said. “The (high school) tenor/bass choir of four young men, they brought home a sweepstakes trophy. It’s the first in Burnet High School choir history.”
The trophy came during the April 11 UIL Concert and Sight Reading contests in Leander. During the same event, the 10 girls of the varsity treble choir earned a superior rating in concert setting and an excellent rating in sight reading as well as that choir’s first trophy in UIL competition.
The tenor/bass choir earned superior ratings in both concert and sight reading, which landed them the sweepstakes honor.
And on May 28 and 30, high school choir students Eileen Crist and Erin Croes are competing in the UIL State Solo and Ensemble contest in Pflugerville.
The UIL accolades are only some of the accomplishments. The high school choir now performs four public concerts a year: in the fall, at Christmas, pre-UIL contests, and in the spring. Each performance features different music, giving the students more chances to develop their voices.
Even during the 2021-22 school year, when many schools weren’t holding concerts due to the pandemic, school and district leaders allowed the choir to sing at public events.
“The school and district leadership and administration have been so supportive of the program and have been really key to getting it going again,” Blakeney said.
He looks at the number of students in the middle school program and sees a strong future for the choir program built on teamwork and having fun.
“I want the kids to see choir as their second family,” Blakeney said. “We’re trying to build a family-type and supportive culture here. Yes, I want the kids to learn how to sing, and sing well, but I also want them to feel like choir is place they belong.”