Finishing in first place was an afterthought for most of the Steamboat Springs High School students who traveled to California last week for a choral competition.
After years of performing in front of complimentary parents and friends, the students were looking forward to being judged by objective strangers.
"You don't realize how good a choir you are until you're judged by other people," senior Cristina Crotz said.
The judges liked what they heard, awarding the women's and mixed choirs with first-place awards at the Music in the Parks festival near Los Angeles last weekend.
But it wasn't those awards that most pleased choir director Susie Ritter. The 49 high school choir students who attended the competition also were awarded the coveted "Esprit de Corps" award for the respect, teamwork and citizenship they displayed during the event.
"One of the things we feel music is about is teaching life skills," said Kurt Hargleroad, senior vice president of educational programs for Educational Programs Network, the group that organizes Music in the Park competitions. "Of all the groups, they were the class act off the stage. That's a real compliment for your community."
Ritter credited the high school staff for its work in teaching students respect and other strong character traits. Those lessons paid off at the competition, she said.
"They loved us," Ritter said. "Everywhere we went, people were talking about how great the kids are. It's great that people saw how well we get along.
"The best part is that we didn't even know about that award. We were just being ourselves. It was sweet. That's the best reward we could ever receive."
In addition to first-place awards for best performances and the Esprit de Corps, student Luke Hamilton was named best accompanist for his piano work during the performances, "which was awesome because he just started playing for us about a month ago," Ritter said.
Crotz, who has been in choir since the sixth grade, said the California trip was a fitting end to her high school career.
"It was so cool to perform our little hearts out," Crotz said. "It was really exciting. It's a great way to say goodbye for all the seniors."
The choir students began working last September to raise funds for the five-day trip, which included excursions to the beach and an Anaheim Angels baseball game. Ritter hopes to do similar trips to choral competitions every other year, a proposal sophomore Hestia Chase likes.
"I'm excited for that already," she said.
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