Emma Love Hardee students make All-State Chorus

Never underestimate the power of a lullaby.

The soft, tender melodies that lulled Samantha Baranek to sleep as an infant might have been the key to her winning vocals.

Both Samantha, in fourth grade at Emma Love Hardee Elementary School, and Kate Badiali, a fifth-grade student, have been singing since they were practically babies, their parents said. And neither student has had any formal vocal training outside of school music class.

But the youngsters’ natural abilities were only the foundation. Through hard work with their teacher, last month they became the only Nassau County students out of 800 competitors across Florida to earn a spot singing with the 200-member 2016 Florida Elementary All-State Chorus next January.

Their teacher, Emma Love's music specialist Michael Genslinger, said the two girls excelled at meeting high vocal standards. He describe the criteria used to judge their vocal skills as "strenuous in terms of the expectations," he said about their blind audition submitted via audio recording. The rubric included a wide-range of areas including tone quality, vocal technique, and vowel and consonant shaping (the clarity of their diction), in addition to pitch, tempo, rhythm, breath control and maintaining the song's key.

"The way that they prepared and how serious they took my direction," set them apart, Genslinger said. "Their preparation really put them over the edge."

Samantha has been singing "since she could talk," said her mother, Amanda Baranek who played lullabies recorded on CD for her daughter while she slept at night. She would awake in the morning to hear, broadcast across the baby monitor, the sound of Samantha humming the melodies.

Samantha enjoys singing because, "You can sing however you want," and "You can make up your own songs," she said. About her audition she said, "I think I did good."

"It's just a gift from God," Amanda Baranek said. Hearing that her daughter had been selected, "It was a pretty proud moment."

Kate has always heard music in her home with her parents Matt and Grace playing piano. Her dad, Matt, also plays guitar. "I think a lot of it is natural ability," Grace Badiali said about her daughter's vocal skills. "Everything she learned for that audition she learned from Mr. Genslinger. It's just in her."

"I really like singing because it's a fun thing to do with your friends and it helps you express yourself," Kate said. When she learned that judges had selected her for the choir, "I was really excited."

Practice consisted of vocal warm-up exercises "with a bunch of different tones quiet to loud." Classmates supported the two students when they gave a mock audition. "The class cheered for us," she said.

"I'm really looking forward to meeting new people and singing new songs," Kate said about the performance in January.

Although in his first year at Emma Love, Genslinger also had eight students in two years selected to the All-State chorus in Southwest Florida. He has also served in previous years as a judge for the competition. There are "certain qualities to really listen for" said Genslinger, who is working to earn a master's degree in music performance from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Among other qualities, judges listen to determine "if they (students) can maintain a good, even tone throughout their vocal range."

The audition included three parts: maintaining the part in a duet, singing "Are You Sleeping" in a round and singing "My Country ’Tis of Thee" a cappela.

"It's a lot of stuff for them to think about," Genslinger said. "You have to be kind of selective of who you choose to audition."

The students will memorize six songs in preparation for the All-State chorus performance at the Florida Music Educators Association Convention in Tampa, Jan. 13-14. 

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