Singing with Distinction: Jackie Vargas Named to All-State Chorus

Jackie Vargas performs in the 2017 EPHS Fall Musical, "Godspell."

Jackie Vargas performs in the 2017 EPHS Fall Musical, "Godspell." The junior, recently named to the Illinois Music Education Association's All-State Chorus, is involved in the school's choir, band and theater programs. Scroll down for a larger version of this picture. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)


For the third time in four years, an Elmwood Park High School student has been named one of the top musicians in the state.

This year the honor belongs to Jackie Vargas, an EPHS junior, who has been selected for the All-State Chorus by the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA).

She will participate in the ILMEA All-State Concert to be held Jan. 26 at the conclusion of the organization's annual state conference in Peoria.

Last year, Michael Matos (Class of 2018) was named to the ILMEA Honors Chorus. Two years earlier, Dante Bruno (Class of 2016) made All-State.

Vargas earned the honor as a result of her ILMEA District 1 audition at Carl Sandburg High School on Oct. 2.  

More than 2,000 students from the Chicago area participated in the audition, from which members of the District 1 Chorus, Band and Orchestra were chosen. The audition scores for students who tried out for chorus were also used to determined All-State selections.

"I spent so much time on that audition," Vargas recalled. "We had gotten our audition music in early September, and I started right away. What motivated me, I think, was just my love of music, because it was always there for me even when nobody else was." 

Students auditioning for chorus were evaluated on prepared selections (40 points possible), sight reading (16), tonal skills (16) and tone quality (28) for a maximum possible score of 100 points.

"I probably practiced out of school two to three hours a week," she said, "which doesn't seem like a lot, but I'm also involved in theater, so I've been very busy. But I always tried to give as much time as I could to preparing for my audition."


Jackie Vargas with EPHS Choir Director Mr. Michael Popplewell

PHOTO: Jackie Vargas with the director of the EPHS choral and vocal music program, Mr. Michael Popplewell. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).


Despite her extensive involvement with the EPHS music program, this was the first time Vargas had auditioned for ILMEA honors.

"I would be waiting for one of the audition rooms to open up and people would be talking like, 'Oh, yeah, I made All-State like three years in a row,'" she said.

"It was like being surrounded by so many people who knew what they were doing and were confident in their abilities. It made me nervous, but I think that's what made my audition all the better."

As a member of the ILMEA District 1 Chorus, Vargas participated in the District 1 Senior Concert Festival held Nov. 17 at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

She was joined there by three other EPHS students who had also been selected as District 1 musicians: junior Nicole Domagala (chorus), junior Matt Hernandez (chorus) and senior Ed Kerner (band — trumpet)

"It was so amazing to be surrounded by so many talented singers," Vargas said of the festival. "That entire day was dedicated to music and everybody's love of music, and it was so amazing."


Jackie Vargas and Michael Matos perform a duet at the Black 7 Gold choral Awards Concert in May 2018. Matos, then a senior, was selected to last year's ILMEA Honors Chorus.

PHOTO: Jackie Vargas and Michael Matos perform "City of Stars" from the movie "La La Land" at the Black & Gold Choral Awards Concert in May 2018. Matos, then a senior, was selected to last year's ILMEA Honors Chorus. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).


Vargas and her fellow District 1 musicians had only one day to rehearse for that event, but she will have three days of rehearsals for the All-State & Honors Concert in January. 

"The District Chorus was great, but we're going to have more time to prepare for All-State because it's over the course of several days rather than just one day," she said. "We'll get into the nitty gritty of the music, and we're going to make magic, basically."

A multi-talented musician, Vargas participates in both the choir and band programs at EPHS.

She sings with the Concert Choir and Swing Choir, both under the direction of Mr. Michael Popplewell. She plays French horn in the Concert Band and trombone in the Jazz Band, and this year she was a drum major with the Marching Tigers, all under the direction of Mr. Kyle Rhoades.

In addition, she has performed in EPHS theatrical productions under the direction of Mr. Noah Pligge, including the musicals "Godspell" and "Cinderella" (as one of the step sisters).


In last year's fall musical, "Godspell," Jackie Vargas turned in a crowd-pleasing solo performance.

PHOTO: In last year's fall musical, "Godspell," Jackie Vargas turned in a crowd-pleasing solo performance. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).


As should be clear from such a résumé, music plays a important part in Vargas' life — and she doesn't intend for that to change.

"Though I want to major in engineering, I want to minor in music and keep music a part of my life forever," she said. "Playing instruments, singing, maybe even being in theater programs after I graduate — I could never give this up."

So what is it about music that she finds so compelling?

"You're part of something bigger than yourself," Vargas said. "You can come together with a whole bunch of people and you get to make art. It's just fantastic being in that kind of community where everybody's supporting each other. Music — the entire purpose of it is to come together to make something, and I really enjoy that."


Jackie Vargas rehearses a holiday song as Mr. Michael Popplewell accompanies her on the piano.

PHOTO: Jackie Vargas rehearses a winter holiday song as Mr. Michael Popplewell accompanies her on the piano. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).


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