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Choir director brings love of music to classroom

Monday, December 31, 2012

Mention Wes Morton and Nevadans think of music, not just his well-known lyric tenor voice, but also the church, community and school choirs he has coached into performances that showed just how magic al music can be.

The 46-year-old Raymore native's parents, Gerald and Shirley, began taking him to Kansas City for voice lessons when he was in the fifth grade, and he studied with Placido Domingo's voice teacher in New York City while pursuing a 1991 bachelor's degree in vocal performance with an emphasis on Italian opera at the University of Missouri, in Columbia.

"Music takes passion and perseverance," said Morton, who earned a master's degree in education at Central Missouri State University, in Warrensburg, in 2000. "There will be ups and downs, the heartaches and headaches, but it's all worth it.

"I enjoy performing once in awhile, but my preference right now lies in teaching and seeing my students perform."

As director of Nevada High School's 51-member mixed show choir, the Soundsational Singers, 36-member girls' Treble Effects show choir and 20-member concert choir, Morton says he "can spread the knowledge and appreciation of music.

"I see the passion in kids' eyes when they're able to perform and do something well," he said. "It's very addictive. We have about 120 kids in the choirs, pit band, backstage crew and set building. Parents work on costumes and we hire professional choreographers and music arrangers.

"I love it here in Nevada. It's one of those things where everybody is supportive of each other. I love the small town feel where everyone knows each other and takes care of each other.

"I had gastric bypass surgery 10 years ago in Joplin because I was morbidly obese. I had a 72-inch waist and weighed close to 600 pounds. I was a big boy. I had two skin removal surgeries and have had lasik surgery on my eyes to correct astigmatisms. I weigh about 250 now and I'm very healthy and happy."

Morton has been involved for some 20 years with the Community Council on the Performing Arts' Community Choir, which he directed in its Christmastime performance of "The Messiah" at the Fox Theatre. He was elected Choir Director of the Year by the Southwest Missouri Choral Association and he coordinates the Missouri All-State Show Choir and Southwest District All-State Choir. His parents and sister, Suzanne Mumper, are in Raymore.

According to references, a lyric tenor is "a warm, graceful voice with a bright, full timber that is strong but not heavy and can be heard over an orchestra."

The teacher has been pleased to see a number of his former students work as record producers, choreographers, background vocalists in recording studios, teachers and in other such roles. "Joe Beaman is singing in Chicago and Scott Hillier is singing in a choir at Yale University," said Morton, who also sings in French, German and Latin.

He was a percussionist in the Raymore-Peculiar High School Panthers Band and plays piano when filling in for his assistant and accompanist, Anita Byers. He has had little time lately for his hobbies of making stained glass, refinishing antique furniture and visiting New York City for Broadway productions.

Morton's New York voice teacher, who had coached Spanish spinto tenor Placido Domingo, was Franco Iglesias. "Those states that are taking fine arts out of their schools are making a big mistake because fine arts build character and help kids grow," he said, crediting Superintendent David Stephens and the R-5 School Board for building a new 800-seat auditorium on NHS' north side, slated to be ready by August, and converting the old auditorium into classrooms and practice areas.

"Fine arts build self-discipline, team discipline and camaraderie just as much as the sporting teams."

Nevada High School will host the Southwest Missouri Choral Association's Annual Show Choir Festival Feb. 16, when 32 schools will compete with as many as 3,000 people in attendance.

A spinto tenor is defined as "a voice that has the brightness and height of a lyric tenor but with a heavier weight, enabling the voice to be pushed to dramatic climaxes with less strain than its lighter counterparts."

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I'm very proud to call this man my mentor. 500 miles away, I still benefit from his teachings.

-- Posted by Luke-Christensen on Mon, Dec 31, 2012, at 7:39 PM

Would pay good $ to see Wes Morton & James Lyen "duel" with their voices on stage...Fundraiser idea, anyone?

-- Posted by mvenice on Wed, Jan 2, 2013, at 10:20 AM

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