Carroll High School senior Sara Sweeney has been named to the All-State Festival Chorus every year throughout her high-school career.
Carroll High School senior Sara Sweeney has been named to the All-State Festival Chorus every year throughout her high-school career.

November 3, 2016

Sara Sweeney set her music goal at a very young age, when she traveled with her dad, Carroll High School vocal music director Doug Sweeney, to the annual Iowa High School All-State Music Festival at Iowa State University in Ames.

During those trips she watched her half sister, Erica Doud, a 2009 Carroll High School graduate, perform there as she became a four-year all-stater.

“Since I was little I’ve been going to the All-State Festival with my dad, and I remember going and watching my older sister. I remember sitting in the back and listening to the rehearsals,” Sweeney said, “ and I told my dad, ‘I’m going to be in that choir someday.’

“Knowing Erica was a four-year all-stater made me want to be a four-year all-stater, and music has been a huge part of me for a long time.”

Sweeney, a CHS senior, recently reached the high note of her young music life, achieving that rare four-year all-state distinction. At All-State Festival auditions on Oct. 22 in Atlantic, she was selected an alto to the 601-member chorus that will rehearse Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18 and 19, at Hilton Coliseum, Iowa State University, Ames, and then, along with the All-State Band and All-State Orchestra, present a public concert that Saturday night.

“All-State is the achievement of achievements,” Sweeney said. “It’s something I’ve looked so highly upon and something I’ve looked forward to every year.”

At the concert, students selected all-state for their first, second or third years are recognized as a group, but the four-year honorees receive individual recognition. Sweeney said that out of the more than 600 singers there are usually only about six to 10 four-year all-staters each year. They’re introduced as “the elite of the elite.”

“I’m really excited to be able to stand up and be acknowledged for an achievement that I’ve wanted for so long,” Sweeney said during an interview last week at Carroll High School.

For music students, she said, All-State may be akin to a state title for a sports competitor.

For her, she said, “It’s the biggest highlight of the year. Above sports, above everything. I absolutely love it.”

That doesn’t mean Sweeney’s road to All-State hasn’t been nerve-wracking — and especially this year with the four-year goal within reach.

“I was way more nervous than I normally am on a ‘regular’ All-State day,” she said. “But after I walked out of that audition with Grant Meiners, who I auditioned with, there was a sense of relief because I knew we had a good audition.”

Meiners, a CHS junior, was selected to sing bass in the Festival Chorus.

“One of my favorite days is the All-State performance and the All-State weekend,” Sweeney said, “and my least-favorite day of the year is the All-State-audition day because you have seven minutes to prove yourself to a judge who may have to choose between you and another alto.”

For the 17-year-old Sweeney, music has always been a big part of life. Dad, Doug, is vocal music director at Carroll High School and Middle School and has taught in the Carroll Community School District 28. Her mom, Joan, is prekindergarten-through-12th-grade vocal music teacher at Glidden-Ralston. Older half sister Erica Doud, who now lives in Iowa City and is studying in optometry, enjoyed numerous music accomplishments in school, and younger sister, Laura Sweeney, an eighth-grader at Carroll Middle School is also active in music, although she’s gravitated a little more to athletics.

“Yeah, everybody’s pretty musically inclined in my family,” Sweeney said. “I don’t think I could imagine life any different. Music has been such a big part of my life.”

Her dad was formerly choir director at First United Methodist Church in Carroll and is currently choir director at Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames. Sara has sung occasionally with the choir at the Ames church, and also has sung solo for parts of the services.

“So it’s also a big religion thing for me,” Sweeney said. “I really enjoy singing for the congregations.”

Sweeney said of her home environment, “With my dad being the choir director at a church, I’ve grown up with Christian music, and classical music, too. And my mom plays the piano really well, so growing up we’d sit at the piano and just sing while my mom played.

“It’s a happier life with music. However, I don’t feel pressured, at all, because I think of music as a part of my life. I don’t think it’s been pressured in any way for any of us girls. But it’s just a way of life.”

Sara has never been uncomfortable with her dad as her vocal music teacher.

“My dad and I talk about music all the time,” she said. “We talk about the choir music. He asks me how I like it. He asks for my opinion during the summer when he’s trying to pick out music for the school or for the church choir.”

All-state preparation has been virtually a year-round pursuit for Sweeney.

“I’ve always enjoyed All-State,” she said, “so it’s bittersweet this will be my last year because I looked up to it as such a high goal.. In past years, once All-State was over I was ready to know the music for the next year and rehearse it during the summer at all-state camp.”

Sweeney attended all-state camps before her freshman and sophomore years at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake and the last two years at Iowa State University.

The All-State Festival concert will be at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at Hilton Coliseum. Tickets are available through the ISU athletics ticket office and from Ticketmaster (phone 1-800-745-3000).

At Carroll High School, Sweeney has achieved a 3.6 grade-point average while being active in choir, show choir, National Honor Society, Kids Into Not Smoking (KINS), speech, basketball, volleyball and soccer.

She plans to attend Iowa State University and major in music, although she said she may eventually study toward a health career such as anesthesiology, athletic training, physical training or physical therapy.

“I have a huge interest in the health field,” she said.

She’s currently dismissing the possibility of following her dad and mom as a music educator.

“I prefer performance over education,” she explained. “I think it’s extremely important for there to be good music education. I think my dad does a fabulous job, and I think my mom does a fabulous job, but it’s just not my interest to do education rather than performance.”

She will audition next February for choir participation at ISU.

“I’m excited to advance myself,” she said. “My mom is an alum from ISU, and she was involved with the Iowa State Singers, and I’m looking forward to hopefully being involved with the Iowa State Singers. My main goal after high school is to be musically involved in some way someplace whether it be at ISU or somewhere. I’d do anything to be involved in music after high school. I’d like to keep it a daily thing.”