Owen High recognizes its music, theater and dance stars

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Society applauds high school athletes who put in the time, work and energy required to play at the collegiate level. Signing Day, an annual, ritualized event in which prep stars sign letters committing them to college teams, is full of pageantry and fanfare, witnessed by friends, family and smartphone cameras.

The fine arts - music, theater and visual arts among them - require similar dedication if student want to refine their craft beyond the high school level. On June 6 in the Owen High School gym, the school celebrated five seniors who signed their letters accepting them to college fine arts programs.

Supported by family and teachers, Owen seniors (seated from left), Sarah Ann Hamrick, Kristen Michels, Wes Owen, Alessia Campins and Karis Kerr celebrate their acceptance into college fine arts programs in the high school's band room June 6.

Alessia Campins, Karis Kerr, Sarah Ann Hamrick, Wes Owen and Kristian Michels sat in front of a crowd. Nearby, cupcakes and pastries decorated with the colors of their respective colleges, marked the significance of the occasion.  

Kerr, who will attend Furman University where she’ll major in vocal performance, has been studying voice since she was 12. “Even before then I singing," she said. "I always knew it was what I wanted to do with my life.”

To that end she spent a lot of time sharpening her skills. “To get to this point I’ve had to practice pretty much daily,” she said. “During the summer I went to programs at several universities, and Furman was one of them, which is how I found out I wanted to go there.”

Kati Swinney is near the end of her fifth year as the chorus director at Owen. Kerr and Campins were two of her students. “Karis has been singing solo music for a really long time through her voice lessons,” Swinney said. “She’s been with our choir for three years, and she’s extremely talented.”

Campins, who will major in music performance at UNC Asheville, is a relative newcomer to singing.

Sarah Ann Hamrick points cupcakes representing the various colleges that fine arts students from Owen will attend. Hamrick, the daughter of Owen band director Tyson Hamrick, will attend Eastern Carolina University and major in dance performance.

“Alessia is a newer singer; she moved here and joined the choir about a year and a half ago,” Swinney said. “She had never had voice lessons before, so all of her vocal training has been here at the high school.”

After singing some in middle school, Campins devoted herself to it when she got to Owen. “I fell in love with this program, and Ms. Swinney, she’s the best,” Campins said. “She taught me everything I know.”

After Campins visited her sister, who is in the UNCA jazz program, she decided she wanted to continue focusing on her craft.

“It feels amazing,” she said of being honored with a signing event. “I didn’t think something like this would happen. Getting recognized for your hard work feels really good.”

Kristian Michels, right, stands next to Owen drama teacher Lyn Nihart, who encouraged Michels to pursue theater as a freshman.

Owen band director Tyson Hamrick, who emceed the event, got to celebrate his daughter Sarah Ann Hamrick’s commitment to Eastern Carolina University, where she will major in dance performance.

“I’ve been dancing since I was three years old at Asheville Dance Theater, and it’s my biggest passion in life,” Sarah Ann said. “I was so excited there was a dance program here at the high school when I came.”

She was grateful to the school’s dance teacher Amanda Arrowood for her help getting her to the point where she could be accepted into a college program. “She’s awesome,” Sarah Ann said of Arrowood. “I’m so excited to go to college for dance.”

Sharing that sentiment is Owen, who plays the trombone and will attend Mars Hill University, where he’ll major in music performance and education. He first took up the instrument as a way to "cope with school."

"But I realized I liked it," he said. "When I realized it was something I was passionate about I put in many, many hours and realized, if I put in the work, it can get me where I want to be."

Owen set aside time to practice and found himself improving steadily, he said. He went to a "music major for a day" program at Mars Hill and felt like he excel there. He's looking forward to discovering new genres to play. 

"Recently I discovered jazz and I think, especially on trombone, there are so many styles that you can branch out to," he said. "That whole discovery has been fun for me."

Kristian Michels was the only senior at the ceremony who was familiar with signing a commitment letter in front of an audience. He committed to play football for Brevard College in March. He plans to minor in theater arts. 

Between bites of a cupcake decorated in Brevard College Tornado colors, the former Warhorse running back and linebacker radiated the kind of charisma that it takes to perform on stage. 

"I watched a lot of movies as a kid and looked up to people like Ryan Reynolds and Adam Sandler, those funny comedy actors," he said. "I've gone through life trying to make people laugh, and I love it."

Michels, who plans to major in biology at Brevard, was introduced to the theater by Owen's drama teacher Lyn Nihart, who he met as a freshman. 

"He told me I had a real talent for acting, so I took theater," Michels said.

"I'm really excited to be able to continue to be involved in theater in college," he said. "It's going to be a great experience."