Students’ voices earn trophy

Franklin School choir wins with Johnny Cash song

When Franklin Elementary School students began preparing for their annual spring recital, their music director presented them with a difficult song that most of the other teachers thought would be too hard for them to sing.
Dr. Armine Irving explained that Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” with all of the different mentions of cities throughout the United States, is a difficult selection for a grammar school choir.
“I asked them if they could try it, and when you tell [students] they can’t do something, they will do it,” said Irving.
Not only did they perform at their concert in May, but they brought three selections to the High Note Festival, held at St. Rose Elementary School in Freehold on June 5.
Their performances of “Pie Jesu,” accompanied on piano by eighth grader Mahikol Torres; “America the Beautiful,” accompanied by their school band; and their choral rendition of “I’ve Been Everywhere,” received the superior ranking at the festival.
Irving said that the choir composed of 72 students received a score over 90 from two judges for their vocal balance, pitch, preparation and quality.
“[The judge said] ‘Well, you’ve heard the groups before you and they were excellent, but you are too’ and he held up the trophy and everyone screamed,” said Irving.

Due to dedication

Irving said that her students had won in large part because of their dedication and commitment. She said her choir had a little over a month to prepare for their spring show and only a few days before the High Note competition. Students often gave up their lunch period and practiced at home.
During their school performance, Torres, along with fellow student Ronak Shah, sang the first part of “I’ve Been Everywhere,” before the choir joined in later. During the competition, everyone sang together, breaking up into low and high voices.
The judges wanted someone to conduct, so Irving had to find someone to play piano for one of the songs. Torres, to whom Irving had given a keyboard two years earlier when he expressed an interest, took the task upon himself to perform “Pie Jesu,” a requiem song the students dedicated to American soldiers overseas.


“Without music, where would we be?” – Natalie Lombardi

“The judges actually made a comment that his piano playing was excellent,” said Irving.
Band Director Vanessa Carl had her musicians play “America the Beautiful” for the choir to sing to during the competition, which was the first time the students had performed with a band, as well as the first time a band had accompanied a choral group at the festival.
“You have to listen to moments on when to come in and when to sing the right parts, because you have to try and [have] the same speed,” said Torres.
Torres, who will be going to High Tech High School next year, said he tried his best to sing and perform on the piano and felt that the competition was a great experience.
Vice Principal John Keshishian said the school was proud of their performance, and grateful that they were rewarded for their hard work.

New experiences

Part of Irving’s decision to perform the Cash song and incorporate different accompanists stemmed from her desire to expose students to different musical genres.
“They should be trained to listen to different kinds of music and repertoire, [and] because they loved it, they sang it and they learned a very difficult song,” said Irving. “You can’t force them to learn something if they don’t want to.”
Torres said he had a passion for all different genres and felt that music was a calling that would be his future career.
“I had never heard anything like [“I’ve Been Everywhere”],” said Caroline Perez. “For us to learn it in such a short amount of time, it’s just great.”
Perez and her fellow choir member Natalie Lombardi, who will both attend North Bergen High School next year, said they were both interested in different types of music now, even country. Perez felt that singing gave her freedom of expression.
“It gives me something different,” said Lombardi. “It brings life to things. Without music, where would we be?”
Tricia Tirella may be reached at

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