CANTON, Ohio — About a week before the Ohio State Fair begins, one group of youth will already be on the grounds hard at work.
Members of the All-Ohio State Fair Choir — about 200 from across the state — are set to arrive July 17 and will practice and perform up to and during the duration of the fair, which runs July 23 through Aug. 3.
For many, July 17 will be the first time they meet each other, as well as the first time they meet the new choir director, Jon Peterson, who is a music professor at Malone University.
Peterson was named the new choir director in March and has spent the past few months reviewing applications and selecting about 200 members who will sing in the choir.
The students are all high school age, grades 9-12, and come from all parts of Ohio. Most are recommended by their high school choir director, or a church choir director. Some are returning alumni, while others are new.
Peterson, who holds a doctoral degree in music, is looking forward to the first day — when he’ll finally get to put faces with names.
“This is the hard part, before the youth arrive,” he said. “When the youth arrive, that’s the day I’m looking forward to because that’s why we all do this — is for the youth of our state.”
Choir members will spend the first few days practicing, before the start of the fair July 23. They’ll work on their music, but also vocal health and preparing for the various weather conditions the fair might bring.
It’s what Peterson calls “team building,” and it includes a staff of 12 adults and various volunteers.
“They have a lot of music to learn in a very short amount of time,” he said.
The choir will perform each day of the fair, some days as many as eight times, and occasionally alongside the state fair marching band.
The performances, however, are “interspersed with rest and rehearsal and obviously some time to have fun and enjoy the fair,” Peterson said.
Some choir members are involved with animal and still projects, in addition to the choir. Peterson said he encourages them to be involved with the fair, and members are permitted to miss performances for livestock shows, and other project-related events.
Choir members stay on the grounds at night in dorms provided by the fair, and their meals are also provided. The members’ only cost is for their music books and uniforms.
This year’s selections will include traditional songs from the past, but also some pop music from the 1960s, to some modern, multicultural selections. The theme is “Many stories, one voice.”
“It’s going to be quite diverse and eclectic,” Peterson said.
Virgil Strickler, fair manager, said he’s excited about what Peterson brings to the choir. For one thing, Peterson is a young director himself, early in his career but with a sound background.
“We couldn’t of found a better candidate and person than Jon,” Strickler said. “He’s like us — he’s all about the youth.”
Strickler said it’s good to see the choir members be involved other parts of the fair. Sometimes it means “hustling” and “running from one barn to the other,” but he said it’s part of what makes for a good fair.
Don Santa-Emma, director of the All-Ohio State Fair Band, has helped with the band 41 years. He enjoys working with youth, especially from so many places.
“It’s very exciting working with young people throughout the state,” he said. “It kind of keeps me young, too.”
He said Peterson is “very energetic, very well-qualified and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
The band and choir mostly perform separately, but will combine performances in some ceremonial and concert events.
Peterson was not in the fair choir himself, but has had college students who have participated — many who consider it a “life-changing experience” and one that helps them in their careers.
“They attribute a lot of their success and character development to (the state fair choir) and being a part of it,” he said.