Northwestern High School Choir Logo – Hyattsville, Maryland

Under the direction of Ms. Dawn Jones, the Northwestern High School Choir is in its eighteenth year of operations, having been founded in 1997 when former director, Leona Lowery Fitzhugh, left her position at nearby Nicholas Orem Middle School to head the vocal music department at Northwestern.

The vocal music program at Northwestern has become a nationally and internationally recognized, multiple award-winning program, that consists of an auditioned program of study and a non-auditioned program. The main Concert Choir and Women's Ensemble are non-auditioned group, open to the entire general student population. The select Visual & Performing Arts Choir, is part of an advanced program of study which is a component of the specialized Center for the Visual and Performing Arts program, at Northwestern. There is a competitive pre-entry requirement for this ensemble which is dual administered by the school district and CVPA staff.

In the last fifteen years, various ensembles within the choir such as the Concert, Advanced, Women's and Gospel Choirs, have all received numerous superior ratings at the local and state level, as well as national and international venues. The largest choir is the auditioned Visual & Performing Arts (VPA) Choir. Enrollment in this Choir has been as high as 135-members in the past. More recently, enrollment in the Choir has averaged around 85-members.

All Choirs at Northwestern are offered as credit courses during the academic school day and are not considered co-curricular. Visual and Performing Arts Choir members are enrolled in a mandatory "zero period" Applied Music course, which requires them to start the school day 45-minutes earlier than the general population. Each summer, a special week-long Summer Choir, has been held in early August for all new and returning choir members. This summer choir provides a chance for students to get a head start on repertoire for the upcoming performance season and also allows for new students to become acclimated to the choir and to veteran members of the choir.

Northwestern High School Advanced Ensemble

The Northwestern High School Advanced Ensemble and artistic director, Leona Lowery, photographed after their straight 'superior' ratings at 2013 MMEA Maryland All-State High School Choral Assessments, held at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Concert Choir is an intermediate-level, comprehensive ensemble at Northwestern. There is an open-enrollment policy for this group which means it's open to all non-CVPA students at the school. Students in Grades 9-12 have the option of participating in the Concert Choir. Enrollment has varied from year to year, but it has ranged from as low as 85-members to as high as 135-members. Students perform many genres of music, such as: classical, spiritual, international, secular, jazz and show tunes. Level six repertoire—which is the most challenging level of music—has been performed by the Concert Choir. The Choir has performed classical works from Mozart and Schubert to challenging spiritual from William L. Dawson and Moses Hogan. The Choir has been rated Superior from local to international venues.

The Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) Choir (formerly Advanced Ensemble) is a select group of auditioned 9th-12th graders and is the main performing and traveling group within the Choir. Singers in this group are enrolled in the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, which is a specialized arts program administered by Prince George's County Public Schools and requires a multi-stage, competitive pre-entry/audition requirement, for participation. Approximately 50-65 students comprise this group, at any given year. Students receive daily private voice lessons and are required to take a "zero period" course in Applied Music, which means the students start school 45-minutes earlier than the general comprehensive population.

The VPA Choir traces its origins to 1999, when it was originally formed as a Chamber Choir, which was then an extra-curricular ensemble that met after-school, only. Due to increasing enrollment in the the Chamber Choir as the years progressed, the group no longer technically constituted a true Chamber Choir. Eventually, the Advanced Ensemble was reorganized into an Advanced-level concert choir that met during the regular academic school day and which was offered as a credit-earning course. This group performs musical works similar to that of the main Concert Choir, however, the music tends to be more challenging. There is a heavy emphasis on foreign language compositions.

The VPA Choir has been rated Superior at choral competitions, both at home and abroad. This group won the 2011 iSing Music Challenge, sponsored by the Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Lanham, Maryland, and was awarded a $5,000 grand prize.

The Women's Ensemble is a beginning/intermediate-level soprano and alto female ensemble, which is open to females in Grades 9-12, with no prior choral singing experience required. The choir consists of approximately 25 females. Singers in the Women's Ensemble study intermediate vocal techniques, score reading, which also includes the study and performance of two and three part SSA choral literature.

Northwestern High School Gospel Choir

The Northwestern High School Gospel Choir in performance at Northwestern.

The Choirs have participated yearly in nationwide and international choral competitions, consistently bringing home multiple 1st place honors and "Grand Championship" awards. The Choirs have placed 1st at competitions in: Chicago, IL (1999); New Orleans, LA (2002); Baltimore, MD (2003); Atlanta, GA (2004); New York City, NY (2005); Williamsburg, VA (2006), and Toronto, Canada (2008). The Choir received "Grand Championship" honors—awarded to the best overall choir regardless of school size or ensemble classification—at all of the aforementioned competitions, excluding Chicago. In 2011, the Concert Choir received a 'Superior' rating at the distinguished Festival of Gold National Choir Invitational, held in New York City. The rating is the highest any choir can earn.

In August 2011, the Choir was accepted into the prestigious Ihlombe South African Choral Festival. Ihlombe is an invitation-only music festival that choirs around the world must apply to and be accepted. In July 2013, 55-students and chaperones flew to South Africa to take part in a ten day, five city concert tour, performing at various venues around Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Soweto, and the Stellenbosch Wine Country. The Choir was a hit and a festival favorite. The various Choirs have also been twice invited to tour and perform in Vienna, Austria, as well as Prague, Czech Republic and London, England.

Back at home, the Choirs have received superior ratings and "Distinguished" rankings, at the annual all-county Choral Assessments, from esteemed choral music educators like Mr. Samuel Bonds and Mrs. Linda Hall, vocal music directors of the world renowned choirs at The Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Baltimore City College, respectively. The Choirs have also frequently participated in the MMEA Maryland All-State High School Choral Assessments, often times either one of a few or only choirs from the county having done so, and often receiving "1" superior ratings. Members of the Choirs have had large representation in the All-County Honors Chorus, for more than a decade.

Outside of festivals and competitions, the Choirs perform extensively throughout the Washington-area, as well as putting on two annual shows for the school and community consisting of a Winter Concert and a Spring Concert. The holiday-themed Winter Concert, held in December, generally draws larger crowds between the two annual concerts, and the winter concert typically features Christmas-oriented music with some non-holiday themed pieces. The winter concert features the entire performing arts department at Northwestern. The All-Choirs Spring Concert, held in May, is usually more formal, and features music that has been taken to local and international festivals, as well as other challenging pieces that have been learned during the second semester of the school year.

Northwestern High School Advanced Ensemble

A small group from Northwestern High School Advanced Ensemble, prepare to pose for a group shot at the conclusion of our W*USA 9 Morning News feature.

Choir Highlights

The various Northwestern High School Choir ensembles, have performed near and far as a part of some very prestigious and noteworthy events. They have also been featured in several media publications. Some of those appearances and features include:

  • A special Touring Choir undertook a 14-day concert tour of five cities in South Africa, in July 2013, as part of the prestigious Ihlombe South African Choral Festival.
  • The Visual and Performing Arts Choir have been invited to and participated in the University of Maryland High School Choir Invitational, which features some of the best high school choirs throughout Maryland, every fall.
  • The Advanced Ensemble has been feature performers on the WUSA 9 News morning news broadcast, highlighting our vocal music program and South African Tour.
  • Featured performers on FOX 5 Morning News with Holly Morris, highlighting our organization and South African Tour.
  • NBC 4 Washington News did a news feature on our choir, highlighting our journey to travel to South Africa.
  • Our Choir made an appearance on the national television network, NBC.
  • Our Advanced Ensemble was part of a PBS network broadcast special, Celebrate America with Tim Janis
  • The Advanced Ensemble was featured in two separate articles in The Washington Post, written by popular columnist, Petula Dvorak.
  • The Advanced Ensemble were the feature performers for the building dedication and grand opening ceremonies for the new Johns Hopkins Hospital towers, with the United Arab Emirates Royal Family, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Maryland state governor Martin O'Malley in-attendance.
  • The Advanced Ensemble has appeared on the University of Maryland Television Network
  • The Advanced Ensemble was special invitees at The Pentagon (U.S. Department of Defense headquarters) for a special Black History Month Gala.
  • The Advanced Ensemble were featured performers at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery for the Jim Henson Family Day.
  • Members of the Concert Choir performed as part of a regional choir, for Washington, DCs 9/11 National Day of Remembrance Ten Year Anniversary, in 2001.
  • The Advanced Ensemble performed in a joint concert with the world renowned Imilonji Kantu Choral Society of South Africa.
  • The Concert and Advanced Choirs performed in a special concert with international gospel-jazz recording artist, Kim Jordan.
  • The Advanced Ensemble has performed with the Townsend State University Choir and the University of Maryland Chamber Singers.
  • The Choirs have performed two world premiers—Many Voices, One World with original poetry by Northwestern students and Undisclosed Locations with Northwestern's award-winning Jazz Band. Both collaboration projects were in conjunction with the University of Maryland School of Music, with songs written exclusively for the Choir by the late composer, Christopher Patton.
  • Our other ensembles have performed for several of our school district superintendents over the years, including Iris T. Metts, William R. Hite, and Alvin Crawley; they've performed for current Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker; as well as U.S. Department of Education secretary Arne Duncan.

The Northwestern High School Concert Choir in performance at the choir's annual Soul Cafe.


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About Us
The Northwestern High School Choir is comprised of two performing ensembles with students in Grades 9-12, which includes our auditioned performing/traveling choir, the Visual and Performing Arts Choir, and our main Concert Choir. The Friends of the Northwestern Choral Society (FNCS) is a U.S. registered 501(c)(3) non-profit division of our vocal music program, which serves to provide financial and operational support to the Choir.
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