Montoya sings Carnegie Hall

The High School Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall challenges students to perform at their very best. Students rehearse and perform under experienced conductors and have the opportunity to perform in front of a variety of college representatives and professionals.
Sophomore Isabella Montoya earned the chance to experience this honor.
“The trip is band, choir and orchestra. Over 10,000 people audition and 500 are picked, 288 being choir kids. It is an international audition to get [into the High School Honors Performance Series]. I applied last June and found out in October that I was accepted; they sent me music to prepare ahead of time and audio files to practice,” Montoya said.
Montoya has been participating in her school’s choir programs since the elementary level, starting in the fourth grade.
“I was in the honor choir for Puyallup in fifth and sixth grade and I did All State in sixth grade but I took a little bit of a break in junior high,” Montoya said. “I am in chorus choir this year but I would like to move on to concert choir by next year.”
Choir Director George Guenther reflects on Montoya’s time in choir at the high school level as preparation for Montoya’s audition.
“We have a rigorous choral program at PHS. Attention to detail, perseverance to get it right, work ethic, literacy skills and vocal technique all would give her useful skills to be successful. Isabella is a wonderful student–always positive and attentive,” Guenther said. “She has an aptitude for music, is smart, has a good ear, picks up music quickly and is a team player. Her musicianship and vocal technique have improved considerably, as have her music reading skills.”
Although her time in school choir gave her the building blocks she needed to audition, Montoya did all rehearsing and practicing for the trip on her own, with the help of a friend.
“Next year I would go over my music with my choir teacher first. It was difficult to prepare songs on my own without direction before I went, next year I definitely want to bring them to my choir teacher’s attention,” Montoya said. “That amount of singing does take a lot out of our voice… You are actually tired at the end of those rehearsals, so I am going to work on getting my voice ready to use more often. I would like to get into voice lessons and start working on my [vocal] range.”
Once in New York, rehearsals for the performance began immediately, ranging from short practices to long, six-hour days. Montoya reflects on her rehearsal before the performance.
“We checked in and had a quick sectional rehearsal to fix any last minute notes. We were expected to have everything memorized so the rehearsal was just to work out little problems. The next day we had our big six-hour rehearsal with our conductor Doctor Eph Ehly,” Montoya said.
Ehly has conducted over 80 All-State Choirs. Montoya describes her time with Ehly as a learning experience and something she was inspired by.
“[Ehly] is an amazing conductor and has an accompanist with him who is from Korea and it was an honor to meet both of them. Each day we learned new ways to work our voices, different warm-ups and special insights about music. I took a lot of notes just based on little things [Ehly] would mention,” Montoya said. “Seeing how inspired my conductor was by the music itself was one of the best things I took from the trip. It was not just a hobby for him and helped me look at music as more than just something I liked to do but seeing it as maybe a profession.”
Montoya was amazed by the dedication of her fellow musicians and was impressed by the amount of skill each one of them acquired.
“It was 288 people in this room who had never met each other, from seven or eight different countries and when we started it was amazing, everyone was on pitch. I did not even know if I was going to be able to do that, I had never been held to that standard before. That is how we practiced for every song and then we pretty much put our music away and got to know the conductor and worked on little areas of the song,” Montoya said. “It was so crazy because when we would sing, it was like no one was off pitch. It was just a matter of listening and being able to hear everyone sing around you and every once in a while hearing this beautiful voice float in your ear… That was really special. I was proud to be able to sing with this group and be able part of something like that.”
Aside from the musical aspect of the trip, Montoya also was able to see and experience New York, including seeing the Broadway play that inspired her audition.
“I got to see a roadway play the Friday night I was there. We got to pick between a few and so I picked ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ since the song I auditioned for the program with this year was ‘Think of Me’ and the piece I am using next year as well was from the production. I had never seen the play and did not know a lot about it so it was really cool to finally get the chance to experience it and really appreciate the piece,” Montoya said.
After making the trip to New York on her own, Montoya’s family joined her later in the weekend for the performance.
“My grandmother and her sister joined me on Saturday and got to sit in on a rehearsal. Sunday was the performance and then after the concert there was a celebration on a yacht that evening. There was dancing and we got to see the Statue of Liberty,” Montoya said.
Anne Taylor, Montoya’s grandmother, was incredibly impressed by what the honor choir had produced.
“We were thrilled [that she wanted to go on the trip], we want her to do anything that will move her forward and this was absolutely an opportunity of a life time to be able to go and do this,” Taylor said. “[Carnegie Hall] was breathtaking. This was the most incredible group of 500 high school kids that I had ever been with. They were fun, they were articulate, they co-mingled with the adults, there was no bad behavior; it was so good for her to be with other students her age that were just focused on what they wanted to do.”
Montoya was equally impressed with the group she was able to perform with.
“Being able to open up to so many people in such a short amount of time was new for me. There were so many people from all over, no matter who you saw you had to go up and [introduce yourself] and hope you saw them again. Our travel groups were all divided into about 15 people or so and that is who you would spend time with on breaks and for sightseeing. Being able to meet people who appreciate music the way I do was amazing,” Montoya said.
Taylor hopes that Montoya will always do what she loves, whether that be in music or something new.
“Music has always been important for her yet as a sophomore it is hard to see the future. We can make it up in our heads or imagine what we want for them but what I see her doing each year as she gets older is refocusing on what she wants to do, what she is good at and what she enjoys (which is more important than all the other things). We hear this all the time from parents, ‘you can achieve anything you want’ and I see her as an example of that,” Taylor said. “The high school process is to present them with opportunities to try these different venues and then decide for themselves what they want to do. I see music somewhere, somehow in her future; even if she is singing in the kitchen to six children. I am so immensely proud of her and it just brings tears to my eyes to see her dedicated and joyful about what she loves.”
Taylor reflects on Montoya’s time in the school choir and the impact that has had on her as a caregiver.
“At the most recent PHS choir concert I watched her first solo. Her dad sat next to me and he was a wreck. I was absolutely amazed at her composure; she just stepped down from the [risers] and sang. As a parent or grandparent, it is always a joy to see your children achieve something that they worked so hard for,” Taylor said.