Among the many traditions at National FFA Convention & Expo, two staple groups of FFA members participating in the week’s festivities are the National FFA Band and Chorus. Students from across the country submit online auditions for the ensembles, then spend the week of convention rehearsing and performing.
Christy Britton started directing the National FFA Chorus in 2002 and said she returns to work with this group of students because of the positive energy at convention.
“[It’s a] really inspiring week to just come together from all over the country, practice for three days on eight pieces of music, and just perform and be a part of convention,” Britton said.
Though the merger between music and agriculture might not be immediately apparent, students see where those shared qualities align. Anne Hodnett, second-year chorus member from the Mayfield FFA Chapter in Las Cruces, New Mexico, said music helps her in the agricultural education classroom.
“Whenever I’m in my ag classes, I’m usually better with more of the numbers and stuff like that because I’m able to count measures and rests, and I know what I’m doing from choir,” Hodnett said. “Going from an ag to a choir experience, you have to be able to talk to everyone … and you have to be able to sing in front of everyone.”
Tara Schnelting touched on the confidence built through performance. Schnelting is a second-year National FFA Band member from the Owensville FFA Chapter in Owensville, Missouri.
“Personally I’ve developed speaking skills,” Schnelting said. “Standing up in front of a crowd performing gives you the same type of anxiety as speaking in front of people, and through that, FFA and band have helped me with communication.”
Schnelting, who plays clarinet, said she will study music performance and music education in college. For Hodnett, she said she’ll study agricultural education. But for Robbie Belcher, band member from the Bartow FFA Chapter in Bartow, Florida, his future career path is in medicine. Both FFA and band can build into his education, Belcher said, in the form of scholarships.
“These programs both present really amazing opportunities,” the tenor saxophonist said.
Hard Work and Discipline until the End
FFA members in the national band and chorus rehearse, travel and perform all week at convention. The program takes focus and self-discipline, traits percussionist Jonathan Stephens, band member from the Windermere FFA Chapter in Windermere, Florida, said he practices through both FFA and music.
“There’s a lot of big days where you’re practicing for a while, and you’re kind of exhausted and you’re not really thinking straight, and I think that this organization and this program allows you to really be able to just be like, ‘OK, I’m struggling at this point,’ but I can build off of it and grow in that sense, which is really awesome,” Stephens said.
Through a week of hard work comes the memories and the lessons. Britton said leadership is a key trait she sees in the members of her National FFA Chorus. The impact of the experience reaches even deeper places for Benjamin Huebner, a bass in the chorus from the Lakeside Lutheran FFA Chapter in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. Huebner took a semester off of school to participate in the chorus at this convention a second time.
This is Huebner’s “last hurrah” before beginning his studies to be an auto mechanic. What he carries into his career and his future from the National FFA Chorus: connection through music.
“The soulfulness of music, how much music can mean to people, how much it can bring people together, the bond it creates between people is unbelievable,” Huebner said. “You can’t put it into words sometimes.”
The National FFA Band and Chorus will perform several more times throughout the 92nd National FFA Convention and Expo, taking the spotlight for their own National FFA Band and Chorus Concert at 6 p.m. Friday in Lucas Oil Stadium.