In spite of the omnipresent threat of budget cuts for public school arts programs, rehearsing sans theater or auditorium space and raising 100 percent of the money to go to competition themselves - Carson High School's show choir and chamber singers took top honors last week at a regional singing and show choir competition in San Francisco.
... That's first out of 40 schools from throughout the West.
"Yes, I'm proud - I'm very proud," said CHS choir instructor Susan Sonnemaker. "They even made me cry, and that's not something I do very often."
"We busted our butts," said Carson senior Cameron Shirey, 17, to a response of giggles from 30-plus of his fellow singers/performers. "What? We did - we worked really hard."
Sonnemaker, who is finishing her second year teaching the class at CHS, still performs professionally, most recently in April as Patti-Sing, a principal in Reno Opera's production of "The Mikado."
The understated leader of some of the region's top young vocalists was circumspect about the group's recent success.
"We have an outstanding and gifted bunch of students," she said. "But they're as hard-working and well-behaved as anyone.
"I'm lucky in that respect."
The Senator singers' discipline was noted off-stage when the singers as a collective also took home top honors for being the competition's best ambassadors.
"We got there first and watched every (team) perform," Sonnemaker said. "I was very proud of the way they behaved - very together, and professional."
A reflection of this polished attitude is evident as more than a handful of the program's graduating class will go on to perform at the next level, Sonnemaker said.
Several juniors are also slated to attend a national performance/recruitment trip this June in Lincoln, Nebraska - where top schools will look for potential finds. Seniors Alex Crounk, 17, and Keith Jones, 17, have earned singing scholarships to UNLV.
"It's the best (singing) school in the state," Sonnemaker said.
Senior Elise Sala, 17, will attend Arizona State University next fall to study vocal performance.
"It's a very prestigious program," Sonnemaker said.
"A lot of us juniors are looking ahead (and) auditioning for college," said Dakota Dutcher, 16. "It's a pretty exciting time and I think (competing) against other schools gave us a lift."
While the upperclassmen have their eyes on taking their craft to a higher level, the recent success of the school's choir is something of a mixed blessing, according to both the students and instructor.
"We really are proud of what we did this year," said senior Janell Mahoney, 18. "Even though it may not matter as much to the seniors, we all want to see the program continue.
"It's just heartbreaking to think that (budget) cuts could take this away, take away our art."
"We were given zero money to go compete," Sonnemaker said. "Along with the hours spent rehearsing, they had to earn their way.
"Next year, we'll go to nationals at this time because of how well we finished last week. We'll do our part, but, at the same time, we have to fight to keep programs like this from going away."
• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.