SOUTH PORTLAND — Toby Laber-Smith, a senior at South Portland High School, said that his experience at the 2019 All-National Honors Choir Performance taught him the power of music.

The event hosted hundreds of students across the country from Nov. 7 – 10 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

This was Laber-Smith’s first time performing in a choir out of state, he said.

Laber-Smith, who sings tenor, said he was accompanied by about 30 other students in his section, 240 students in total, creating a homogeneous sound that spoke to his interest in music theory.

“I learned a lot about the power of music,” Laber-Smith said. “It wasn’t performing to be the best. It was more about the experience. We sang more emotionally intense songs. I learned how music can be more of an experience.”

He said that he sang seven songs in total at the performance, each bringing a different element musically, from more upbeat pieces to slower and emotional ones.

Laber-Smith said he is president of South Portland High’s chamber singers and he has been involved in his school’s musical theater productions. As a hobby, he likes to play the upright bass.

The audition for nationals was a bit different from traditional auditions, Laber-Smith said. He recorded a sample of himself singing a selected piece to the judges for review.

“It wasn’t a live audition, which helps a lot, but it’s still a time limit and you want to do the best you can,” he said. “It was a lot of pressure on my vocal cords because our musical show was the same week.”

He said that the support he has received from his teachers, school and family have been a driving force for his passions.

With an interest in music theory, Laber-Smith said that he hopes to study music theater in college and wants to study out of state. His top choice is currently New York University.

“I really love music and how it works,” he said. “I’ve been interested in music theory and how it fits together. I like being a part of that.”

Laber-Smith became involved in singing after taking a mandatory choir class when he was in fifth grade. After realizing he enjoyed singing, he signed up again the following year.

“When I was little I was into acting,” he said. “I just wanted to perform. I don’t think I had that passion for music until I got to high school. My teacher is amazing.”

His choir conductor and teacher, Michelle Snow, has helped his musical interest blossom, Laber-Smith said.

With South Portland school’s music program being so supportive, Laber-Smith was surprised when he spoke to other students in Florida and learned that not every school is as musically involved.

“I talked to a lot of students at nationals who had a hard time preparing because their schools didn’t give them enough information,” he said. “I think that the band and choir teachers [at South Portland High] give the students time to practice and prepare.”

Laber-Smith said that his parents have been practical yet supportive of his musical interests, he said.

“Yeah, my parents have been wonderful,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people have this kind of support group. They’ve been very realistic, and they’ve also helped me bolster my love.”

While he is optimistic about his dream to go into the music field, Laber-Smith said he has met some skeptics.

“I’ve been told by multiple teachers that they think I should look for a more practical job,” he said. “People have this idea that it’s impossible to study music.”

Even with a bit of negativity, Laber-Smith said his support systems, friends and family have been giving him the confidence and motivation he needs to chase his passion.

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