Jack Simpson was one of two Volusia County elementary students selected among the estimated 1,000 students who auditioned across Florida.
When fifth-grade Osceola Elementary School student Jack Simpson sings, you turn your head from the piano and marvel.
At least that's what his music teacher Sarah Johns did last spring when she was holding mini-auditions in her classroom to deliberate which students should audition for the 2020 Florida All-State Elementary Chorus. Simpson had been in her classes since he was in third grade, but she had no idea his voice could sound like that.
"He’d sung in class, but he never really was the kind of kid that’s like, ‘Hey look at me, I’m this superstar singer,’" Johns said. "He never wanted the attention. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
But once she heard him, she knew he had to audition for the state-wide chorus. Thankfully, Jack said yes, and that would lead him to perform at the Florida Elementary Music Teacher’s Association’s yearly convention in Tampa in early January.
“It was like expressive amounts of joy. A little bit of confusion, like 'I got in?'”
Jack Simpson, 11, Osceola Elementary School fifth grader
Jack, 11, was one of 2 students in Volusia County selected for the All-State Elementary chorus led by Robyn Lana, director of the Cincinnati Youth Choir. The All-State chorus group was comprised of about 200 students selected from an estimated 1,000 who auditioned, Johns said.
“It’s like a needle in a haystack," Johns said. "I’ve had so many kids audition over the years and I think they’re good, but if they don’t pass that audition, if the judges don’t hear in their voice what they’re looking for, then they just get tossed aside."
After practicing a handful of times with Johns over the summer, along with the other four students from Osceola Elementary that sent in auditions, Jack found out he had made the cut sometime in October 2019. Immediately after Johns got the news, she called his parents — who work down the street from the school — to come over and be present when she broke the news.
They ran over to the school, recalled Lera Simpson, Jack's mother.
“We were both excited that he’d made it, but we had no idea what we were in for and how big it was, and how much of an honor it was,” she said.
Jack felt a slew of emotions when they told him he'd be singing in the chorus.
“It was like expressive amounts of joy," Jack said. "A little bit of confusion, like 'I got in?'”
He and Johns stayed after school many times practicing the music for the concert because once in Tampa, the group only rehearsed twice before they had to perform. There were six songs he had to learn, one of which was entirely in Latin: "Gloria," by Peter Robb, who was the commissioned composer for the concert.
That was Jack's favorite song. He even got to meet Robb and get his autograph.
“I was surprised that he would even let us do that, let alone be so nice about it,” Jack said.
Watching him perform on the stage brought tears to his mother's eyes. Neither of Jack's parents are musical, but said they understand the importance of music programs in schools. Music is what has aided Jack with his stutter, Simpson said. Sometimes, Jack hums Beethoven and Mozart all day long.
“It’s his place of peace," Simpson said.
Jack doesn't get stage fright. Performing on that stage felt like being in the practice room. Singing is complicated though, he admitted. But he loves highs and lows of different pitches, and the swell of notes as they flow through a piece.
“How it is like a wave in the ocean," Jack said. "It’s the best way I can put it.”