P O W E L L, W y o. - When Northwest College music professor Mike Masterson looked at the judges' sheets from his Studio Singers' performance at the Greeley Jazz Festival, he had to ask someone else to confirm what his eyes were telling him - his singers had received "perfect" scores from both judges.
Perfect scores rarely occur, according to Masterson, who's been taking vocal students to the Greeley festival for 23 years. If seeing isn't believing, when Masterson listened to the judges' comments as they were recorded during the performance, he heard for himself the note-by-note judgments that added up to the perfect score - words like "extraordinary," "beautiful" and "gorgeous chords" were filled with the adjudicators' obvious enjoyment of the expressive singing style they were hearing. They put those reactions on paper by giving high marks all the way down the score sheet.
Masterson clearly relishes the assessment of his Studio Singers and rhythm section, but he's quick to deflect any attribution right back to the students.
"These students came together at the beginning of the year and liked each other right away," Masterson said. "Nine of the 11 singers are freshmen, so they were brand new, but each one is a fine performer. They learned from each other, inspired each other and were always working to improve their performance.
"They listened carefully to their last recorded concert before the festival and fixed things they wanted to sound better. When we got to Greeley, they listened all day to vocal jazz groups and were literally 'jazzed up' when it was their turn to shine. And believe me, they took charge of the stage - the dynamics and style they delivered caught everybody's attention."
Masterson said one key factor in the group's success wasn't attributable to the singers, but to the high caliber of the rhythm section that complemented them. "You've always heard a vocal group is 50 percent voices and 50 percent rhythm section," he said. "It's true. Each one of the Studio Singers' instrumental musicians is also a fine performer."
The judges paid special recognition to Amber Offley, a 2006 Meeteetse High School graduate they named an outstanding soloist. The soprano/alto songstress led off the group's rendition of "Home" with an alto solo part and was spotlighted again midway through the song.
Amber has more of a pop style or delivery than a jazz sound," Masterson said. "She has a wonderfully husky voice and clear diction just made for this song (a Euro pop piece by a group called Zero7). When she soloed, you could hear all the guys' hearts in the audience palpitating."
Offley came to Northwest as a National School Choral Award winner and MHS Outstanding Choir Member. She's the daughter of Pennie and Alex Offley of Meeteetse.
Northwest College Studio Singers & Rhythm Section
Josh Paredez (bass)
Shawn Kebler (guitar)
Sean Francis (drums)
Elaine Hickman (piano)
From Rock Springs:
From Bonners Ferry:
Kaleb Richey (sound)