Saranac Lake junior selected for all-state music conference

SARANAC LAKE – Ivy Huber was working at Donnelly’s Ice Cream when she learned she’d been picked to participate in a festival showcasing the best high school music students from across the state.

Huber, a junior at Saranac Lake High School, said the school’s choral music director, Drew Benware, had left a message on her home phone.

“My mom called me and said, ‘You have to go check your messages,'” she explained. “I said, ‘Well, I’m at work.’ She’s like, ‘Check it from your cell phone.’ You know how you can put in a number, so I checked it and I heard.

“Mr. Benware was concerned that I wasn’t going to get the message,” Huber added. “He wanted me to know right away. So he actually drove out to Donnelly’s, and it was all, ‘Oh my God!’ and I was very, very excited. I’m still excited.”

Huber, a soprano in the high school chorus, will represent her district next month at the 78th annual New York State School Music Association all-state conference at the University of Rochester’s prestigious Eastman School of Music.

The honor continues what’s been a stellar last few years for the high school music program. Last year, the school sent Jessica Kemp, a soprano who graduated this spring, to the National Association for Music Education’s All-Eastern festival. She was only the third Saranac Lake student ever to be selected to that festival. Kemp was also an all-state selection last year and joined 52 other students in the music program’s choral, jazz band and concert band at NYSSMA’s Zone 6 area all-state festival. Zone 6 includes students from high schools in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.

This year, Saranac Lake is again well-represented at the area all-state festival, which started Friday and continues today at AuSable Valley Central School.

“Saranac Lake is sending 55 students to this festival, which is an impressive number,” Benware said. “It’s the best of the best. There’s a concert band and a jazz ensemble, and a mixed chorus and a women’s chorus.”

More than 270 students from the three counties were selected to participate in the festival. It includes two days of rehearsal culminating in a concert at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. Each group will be under the direction of professional conductors from every corner of the state.

The all-state conference is set for Dec. 5-8 at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music.

“There’s 16 days until I head off for the conference, not that I’m counting or anything,” Huber told the Enterprise Tuesday.

Homeschooled until she came to the high school as a freshman, Huber said she used to sing a lot and perform in plays, but she never received much formal musical training before then.

“I started music in 9th grade with Mr. Benware,” she said. “I didn’t know how to read music or anything. He started me off with sight reading. It’s been challenging but a lot of fun.

“I really wanted to be a part of the music wing. Anyone who had told me anything about school said if you want to have a good high school experience, you have to be in the music wing.”

Huber is also in the school’s instrumental music program, led by Keith Kogut. She plays saxophone. She credited Kogut with helping her learn how to read music.

To get into the all-state conference, Huber faced what Benware described as “incredibly stiff” competition and an arduous application process. She was picked based on her performance of a Level VI solo, which has the highest level of difficulty. She had to get a perfect score of 100 and a ranking of one on a scale of one to three, which she did, to even be considered for selection.

“Ivy’s a tremendously hard worker,” Benware said. “She not only has a really great talent base, but she works very hard to cultivate that base and she’s grown by leaps and bounds.”

Benware said Huber is part of what he called a very strong soprano section of the high school chorus.

“It’s unfortunate that only one person gets the bid for conference because I have so many all-state quality singers, which is fantastic,” he said.

When she gets to Rochester next month, Huber will go through 20 hours of rehearsals over several days leading up to a concert on Dec. 8.

“You’re with 350 to 400 people that you’ve never met before,” she said. “We stay in a hotel, we eat together and you have roommates. It’s exciting. It’s like a taste of college, I guess.”

While she’s only a junior, Huber is already thinking about life after high school. She said she’s considering pursuing a music therapy degree in college.

“It’s about helping people with disabilities and Alzheimer’s (disease) using music,” she said. “There’s been a lot of research about how if you memorize song lyrics, they stay in your head no matter what. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s. He passed away a couple weeks ago. He couldn’t remember his wife’s name, but he would always remember the songs he sang in the military. That’s something that really interests me.”

Benware noted that Huber’s success and that of other students in the music program hasn’t happened in a vacuum.

“Each day, the students and I are keenly aware of the tremendous support that the membership and leadership of this district and community have shown toward the music department,” he said. “What the community may not realize is how much of a blessing we consider their support and how, through their support, lives are literally being changed.”

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or