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For 37 years, the Sound of America Honor Band and Chorus (SOA) has been performing professional-level concerts as part of its annual summer good-will tour. The ensemble is comprised of high school and college-age instrumentalists and vocalists who exhibit outstanding musical distinction and honorable character, while being respectful, dependable and having a positive attitude as ambassadors of the United States.

This summer, two Western New York students have been chosen to join SOA as it embarks for its 23-day tour of six European countries in July. Corbin Dzimian, a senior at Orchard Park High School, will be a member of the band’s tuba section, and Leah Bisson, a junior at Akron High School, will be performing with the chorus as a vocalist. In order to be awarded a position as one of SOA’s musicians – only about 180 are chosen from around the nation each year – Corbin and Leah went through a rigorous application process, and in the end came out on top, gaining admission to the group.

After intensive rehearsals in Elizabethtown, Pa., and two bon voyage concerts, the group will play throughout Europe, including one performance at the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Corbin said his interest in music began at a very “early age.” His older brother’s violin playing sparked Corbin’s initial interest, which has since grown into recognizable talent. Since his fundamental lessons, Corbin has gone on to join his high school band ensemble and has been selected for Erie County’s All County Band. This year, he was also honored as a member of the New York State School Music Association All State band as well.

The application for the SOA consists of three parts, which are recorded for submission: a portion that tells evaluators about the applicant; one musical piece preselected by the selection committee; and a final solo composition, chosen by the student.

As he prepared his SOA application, Corbin said he practiced many hours and received a lot of help from his high school band instructor – particularly in choosing a solo to perform and getting it “just right.”

After anxiously waiting for three months, Corbin and his parents finally received the pleasing results.

“I was very excited,” Corbin said. “It was great to hear that it was such a success for me.” When asked what he was most looking forward to on the tour, he said, “all the different food.”

Corbin plans to study music education at SUNY Fredonia State.

A love for music

Like Corbin, Leah’s passion for music began with early childhood piano lessons. In sixth grade, Leah began her vocal lessons and has been “loving music ever since.”

She stands out in Akron High School’s Music Department. Akron’s choral director Meghen Cierlicki said, “Leah’s dedication to music is one of the qualities that set her apart from other high school musicians.”

Such dedication, along with hours of practice and private lessons have fostered Leah’s abilities, earning her the lead in Akron’s production of “Grease” along with positions in the Erie County and All State Choir groups.

With help and support from her instructors and mother, Leah was able to studio-record her audition, which, she said, “went better than I could have imagined.” Evidently the selection committee at SOA was also satisfied with her application.

Leah recalls receiving the phone call announcing her acceptance: “I was over-the-moon excited. My parents were so happy. They told me over and over again how proud they were of me and how much they were looking forward to the opportunity for me.”

Although the extravagant itinerary made it hard to choose, Leah said that Venice is the location she is most anticipating on the SOA tour.

After graduating from high school, Leah also plans to attend college to study music education, in hopes of teaching at the university level someday.

“Music is something I can’t imagine my life without, and I know that it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said.

Catherine Kelkenberg is a senior at Akron High School.