The Lake Highlands High School musical group Espree is a group that lives up to its name.
The name is based on the French phrase esprit de corps, which means spirit of the group. Or, more precisely defined: a feeling of mutual regard existing in a group and its members that all are working together to some common goal.
Senior member Patrick Freshwater confirms that’s the case with the current members of Espree.
It’s a really tight-knit group, he says. Everybody really gets along together, and we really support each other.
And their common goal is to put together the most professional performances possible at the high school level Ð a goal they have met for 17 years.
Espree performs music ranging from Broadway show tunes to big band music and songs from the Õ60s and Õ70s. Although many large high schools throughout the country have show choirs, Espree differs in its scope, says director Michael O’Hern.
It’s really a pop group rather than a choir, he says. Each singer has a microphone, and the group has live instrumentation backing it up.
The two to two and half hour show that we do each year, with the elaborate sound system and lighting, really sets us apart.
Although O’Hern is new to the director’s position this year, he is no stranger to the group. Coming to Lake Highlands Junior High in 1982 as choral director, he long assisted the high school’s choral director of 15 years, Molly McCullough, as well as directing the junior high’s version of Espree (called Limited Edition).
When McCullough was named assistant Principal at Flower Mound Marcus last fall, O’Hern moved up to the high school as choral director. The transition was easy Ð many of the Espree members had been taught by him at Lake Highlands Junior High.
Auditions for the group are extremely competitive, typically involving 30 to 40 vocalists from the school’s elite a capella choir. Each vocalist must perform two numbers of contrasting styles for their first audition Ð for instance, country and Broadway or jazz and rock. An independent panel of judges selects 12 vocalists and a handful of instrumental accompaniments for the group. Currently, five instrumentalists Ð two guitarists, two keyboard players and a drummer Ð accompany the vocalists.
Espree member Whitney Roberts says, The audition process is really grueling for some people. I started working on audition pieces with a vocal coach the summer before my junior year.
The auditions are a two-day process, then there are callbacks, she says. But IÕd always wanted to be in the group since elementary school, when I went to see the shows and saw what fun it was.
And now I know what a great experience it really is.
Espree members are not only the most talented students musically, but also are academic and community leaders.
For instance, Freshwater, a bass, is a varsity football player and an Eagle Scout with his eye on Texas A&M after graduation. Keyboardist Elizabeth Reap is senior class historian and an officer in the Girls Service League. Roberts is student council historian and a member of the National Honor Society, the Girls Service League and the math honor society, as well as being active in the school’s theater program.
Parents are a big part of the Espree success. Beginning in junior high, parents are encouraged to participate in the Lake Highlands Area Choir Booster Club. This club was founded to provide funds for excellence in music programs, in response to state cutbacks in arts funding in the late Õ80s.
Says John Reap, booster club treasurer: The music programs at Lake Highlands Junior High, Forest Meadow Junior High and Lake Highlands High School are three of the top programs in the state, and the money the booster club raises helps with that.
Parents also play a large part in Espree’s spring performance, helping to build sets, sew costumes and publicize ticket sales.
This year’s performance, which encompasses two acts, three costume changes and full sets and lighting, will take place Feb. 27-28 at Lake Highlands High School. Tickets are $5 in advance and $6 at the door. Call 503-4667 for more information.