Choral magic

Three Island students take the stage at the All-State Music Festival.


Three Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) music students achieved a pretty lofty honor recently. After a highly competitive audition process, high school junior Aiden Weiland, senior Samuel Hines, and sophomore Zyler Flanders were selected to sing in the 70th annual Massachusetts All-State Music Festival in Boston’s historic Symphony Hall.

“Each year the kids audition in January, and if they’re accepted, they go to a two-day festival in March, rehearse as a group, and perform in Symphony Hall,” Abigail Chandler, MVRHS chair of the Performing Arts Department, said. “I had five students do well enough to go to the All-State auditions this year, and three got into the festival.”

Before making it to the All-State auditions, students must first audition in the South East Music Festival, which comprises five districts in Massachusetts. Young people from each district throw their hats into the ring. Only half of the students who audition at the South East Music Festival move on to the All-State audition, and only half of those students make it into the All-State Music Festival. This year, more than 200 students found a spot in the All-State Music Festival.

Though the process for these auditions isn’t a cakewalk, when the kids walk on stage, it’s all worth it. “Once they get to the All-State Festival, it’s one of my most favorite things to see as their teacher,” Chandler said. “When the kids hear that first sound the group makes together, their faces light up. Symphony Hall stage has world-class musicians performing on it. For the kids to be able to stand up in that space means a lot to them.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Aiden Weiland, Samuel Hines, and Zyler Flanders recently. Aiden’s dad, Brian Weiland, teaches music at Oak Bluffs School, and both of Aiden’s older siblings are musicians. I asked Aiden if as a small child he walked around his house belting out songs, or if his interest in singing came a bit later.

“I definitely was on the shy side when I was younger,” Aiden said. “Musical theater got me out of my shyness. If you want a lead role, you gotta sing.” Aside from singing, Aiden plays the violin. “I started playing when I was 5, and I still play with the orchestra at the high school. I have a new, profound gratitude to my parents for starting me out at such a young age.”

Zyler Flanders plays not one but three brass instruments. “I play the tuba, the trombone, and the euphonium,” Zyler said. “My mom is musical, but neither of my parents pursued music as a career. My grandparents on my mom’s side were also musical. My mom gave me a lot of opportunities to get involved in music, and I took them.”

Samuel Hines is a piano player, and was immersed in music growing up in his household. “My dad, David Hines, is a singer,” Samuel said. “He used to be the lead singer of a band called 98.6. They opened for singers like Chaka Khan and Donna Summers. Thanks to my dad, I’ve been singing almost my whole life. I started piano around six years old, stopped for a while, and then retaught myself over COVID. It helped me escape the lull of home school every day, and it was a great way to reconnect with my passion.”

Passion for music is clearly something these three young men share, but talent, tenacity, and bravery also come into play. “It was a bit stressful to audition, because I didn’t want to blow it,” Aiden, a baritone, said. ”But my teacher, David Behnke, helped me with sight-reading and preparing my piece. Last year I got into the South East audition, but didn’t make it to the All-State. This year, I decided that I really wanted this.”

Samuel is a tenor, but he can also sing in the soprano range. He got into the All-State Music Festival last year, but it was canceled due to a snowstorm. “This year the audition was an interesting experience,” Samuel said. “Because I had done it once before, I was less stressed out. The scariest part for me was the sight-reading. The prepared piece you spend time preparing for, but they also give you a few lines to a song, and then you have to just sing it. So you ask yourself, ‘Am I hitting the notes that are written here? Am I hitting the right tempo?’”

Predominantly juniors and seniors make up the All-State Music Festival Chorus. Since Zyler is a sophomore, it was quite an honor to make it in. “I was very happy to have gotten in. At the audition, I was very nervous that I wasn’t going to do well,” Zyler said. “Especially the high notes, which were making me nervous. I did better than I thought I did. Luckily, we can see our scores after. I was really proud of myself.”

Aiden, Samuel, and Zyler each explained that the experience of being on stage at Boston Symphony Hall greatly impacted them. “I was blown away. The moment of getting through all the auditions was finally set in stone,” Zyler said. “Hearing that first note of all of us singing together was like waking up. It was amazing.”

“All three of us perform enough live music that oftentimes it feels like you’re going to work,” Aiden said. “But when we got to be in that space, it was just as much a gift to us as others. It was an incredible opportunity to be part of a group of singers of that caliber.”

“I get chills thinking about it. It’s one of those experiences that you don’t get back,” Samuel said. “The conductor, Dr. Wendy Moy, said, ‘You will never be in this room on this stage with these people again, so cherish this.’ We also performed songs, like ‘Elijah Rock,’ which is spiritual by origin, not gospel. Spirituals originated during slavery, and also shaped the music industry as we know it, birthing genres like gospel, jazz, blues, soul, and R&B. Not only is it important to know our history, but as the Massachusetts All-State Honors Choir, representing all four corners of the state of Massachusetts, it was important that we also represented the history of Massachusetts — one of the first colonies in the U.S. to own slaves — in our music. So getting on the stage and performing that piece is something I will always cherish.”

I wondered what kind of music Samuel, Aiden, and Zyler listen to when they’re not performing. “I think most musicians listen to a variety of music,” Samuel said. “I listen to jazz voices — singers like Ella Fitzgerald. I also listen to R&B and soul. I study opera as well, so I listen to opera, but also popular music. And classical instrumental music is great for times when I’m studying, reading, or just relaxing.”

“I feel like Samuel said it well,” Aiden added. “As a musician, you really need to expand your palate. I will listen to the soundtrack of a musical I’m in. If I have an orchestral show, I’ll listen to that. I also listen to opera and classical music, but popular music as well. My brother Liam is working in a recording studio now, and creates his own music, so it’s great to be able to listen to his music too.”

Zyler agreed. “The music I listen to is very diverse,” he said. “I’m in the jazz band at school, so I listen to jazz to immerse myself in it. I’ve also been a big fan of musical theater since grade school, so I listen to that, and pop culture as well.”

When people work together to put on a play, a concert, or any group performance, the challenges and joyful moments they share along the way can bring them together in magical ways. I couldn’t help but notice that these three young men seem to have a pretty strong bond.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie between us,” Aiden said. “We’ve been in musicals together. We were on the same boat to go off-Island together, going to the same auditions, which started out with a large group, but dwindled until it was just the three of us. When we finally got to Symphony Hall, we looked at each other and were like, ‘We made it.’”

So what’s next for these three musicians? Zyler has two more years of high school, but he’s actively been contemplating future options. “I have a few ideas on what I want to do. I really like academics, so teaching is one — math education,” he said. “I also want to keep performing. I perform in the Vineyard Haven band now. We rehearse every Sunday and perform on Monday. I hope to continue doing stuff like that.”

Aiden said, “In an ideal world, I would love to pursue some sort of career in music, but of course there lies the issue of taking what I love and monetizing it, especially with the cost of college these days. Thankfully the Vineyard has wonderful scholarship opportunities in addition to highly supporting the arts, so we’ll see how things unfold. Of course, my father is a music teacher and my brother works in the industry, so I’m fortunate to have them to guide me.”

Samuel will be graduating this year, and heading off-Island into the next phase of his journey. “I’m still waiting for a couple of college decisions, but I’ll be pursuing music and possibly economics, literature, or government — perhaps a dual degree,” he said. “It’s been incredible to do this. I moved here from Los Angeles in the middle of my sophomore year. The musicals at schools have been an incredible experience. And getting to perform at Symphony Hall … I’ve had so many great experiences.”

I feel as though I’d be remiss if I didn’t share at least one parent’s perspective on this amazing experience. Aiden’s dad, Brian Weiland, told me, “The All-State Festival Chorus sounded absolutely stunning. Two hundred voices singing in perfect four-part harmony is already going to sound pretty great, but the All-State Festival Chorus is truly magical. Their sound was a wonderful blend of joy, pride, innocence, and youthful excitement, combined with the skill, sensitivity, and raw power of the highly talented singers they are.”