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January 29, 2016

Eastside High School senior Michael Downton has always liked to sing—especially at home. While participating in his middle school chorus he learned he has a special knack for sight reading music. He credits Cousins Middle School chorus teacher Leila Elkins with teaching him how to sight read music when he was in sixth grade and he’s been perfecting that talent ever since.

“I don’t know why, but I find it very easy,” said Downton, who acknowledged with a laugh that he’s the only one in his family who can sing. “Everyone else is either tone deaf or just too shy to sing.”

So when he learned there was an All State Reading Chorus he decided to try out and made it on his very first attempt. He will perform with the prestigious group this Saturday, January 30, at the Athens First United Methodist Church in Athens, Georgia.

According to Eastside High School choral director Joel Singleton, making the All State Sight Reading Chorus is no easy feat, as only 100 to 120 students from the entire state are selected to participate each year. Both Singleton and Downton said the auditions are very difficult.

“Each student is given five challenging sight-reading exercises containing notes of varying rhythmic and melodic patterns,” said Singleton. “They only get to practice for one minute before they have to sing them for the two judges.”

“Some of them were super hard,” added Downton, who is a tenor. “That tryout was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done musically.”  

And that’s saying a lot, as Downton has immersed himself in music since his elementary school days, when he participated in the East Newton Elementary School chorus. He said he tried sports and other extra-curricular activities but they just weren’t for him. He realized he was bitten by the music bug and has been participating in chorus and musical productions—both in school and the local community—ever since. In fact, he can rattle off every role in a musical he’s performed from fifth grade to the present.

Even though he loves singing, he noted he didn’t take chorus his first two years at Eastside because of his class schedule. However, when Eastside choral director Joel Singleton approached him in the hallway one day and told him he needed more tenors and should consider joining the chorus, he took him up on the offer.

“He met me when I was in eighth grade because he came to Cousins to recruit people for the Eastside chorus,” said Downton. “He remembered me and when he mentioned it, I realized I missed chorus so I came back.”

And now, that love of music has actually made him start to reevaluate his career plans.

“My plan has always been to be a computer technician but something has been pulling me lately towards being a chorus conductor,” he said. “I don’t know, something just keeps telling me I need to be a conductor.”

He’s not going to make any quick decisions, though. He’s decided to work out his career plans after taking some classes in college. Until then, he’s focused on the upcoming All State Sight Reading Chorus and singing with some of the best tenors in the state.

According to Singleton, the students will rehearse for two days and sight-read approximately 60-70 brand new songs, including selections from different languages, genres, and tempos. They will then perform six of those songs at the concert on Saturday.

“Michael is a hard-working, talented, and kind person,” said Singleton. “He is such a great kid to have in class.  He's helpful to others, works to be better each day, and genuinely enjoys singing.”

“I’m so proud of Michael,” said Eastside High School principal Jeff Cher. “He is a talented student who also performs exceptionally well in the classroom.  He will be a success in whatever endeavor he chooses after high school.”   


“Congratulations to Michael for achieving this remarkable accomplishment,” said NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey. “ I understand well the difficulty that can be associated with reading music, particularly on the first and second read, as the musical notes, note and rest values, time signature, and clefs simulate a ‘foreign language.’ To achieve this level of success not only has Michael had to work diligently to cultivate his talent of sight reading musical pieces, but he also has had to prepare his voice as well! I wish him the very best as he performs this weekend!”