Malverne High School sophomore Michael Lawless said he felt a mix of surprise and excitement when he was recently selected to participate in the prestigious National Honor Choir Conference.
When Lawless told family members that he was chosen for one of the most selective high school conferences in the country, they weren’t sure what to say.
“They knew that I sing, but I guess they didn’t expect (this),” Lawless said. “I don’t think my sisters really knew I was auditioning for this until they found out.”
Lawless said he’s involved in a myriad of responsibilities and commitments, so it’s hard for his family to keep track of what he is doing on any given day. He plays two sports and two instruments, is a member of more than seven school clubs and activities and maintains grades above a 95 average. Plus, he has a part-time job scooping ice cream.
Lawless was selected as a bass for the American Choral Directors Association’s National Honor Choir. The conference will be held in Ohio in February. Lawless was one of 300 high school students nationwide selected out of 4,000 applicants, and just the second Malverne student ever chosen.
Lawless said he was cautious about his chances because it is rare for an underclassman to be selected for the National Honor Choir, and the application process is rigorous.
“I set my expectations very low just because of the pure amount of applicants,” Lawless said
Malverne High School chorus teacher Ken Zagare called Lawless, who is a member of the high school’s choir, orchestra and band, to his office one morning recently.
“I figured it was just about choir stuff,” Lawless said. “When ultimately he told me, I was really shocked. I was quite surprised. I didn’t really know what to say in the moment. It was exciting to find out.”
Now that his family has had time to celebrate the news, they will likely be making the trip with Lawless in February.
Michael Messina, Malverne School District’s supervisor of music, fine arts and family & consumer sciences, said Lawless earned his selection to the conference, ranking as one of the top music students in the history of the school and certainly in Messina’s 27-year career.
“I’d say he is definitely one of the top 10,” Messina said. “He’s one of the top students we’ve ever had, and he’s one of the top in all three areas (chorus, orchestra and band).”
Messina said he has been extremely impressed with Lawless and wasn’t surprised when he learned Lawless was selected to the National Honor Choir Conference.
“I will say that as music educators, we had very high expectations for him,” Messina said. “We knew he had a very good chance. We knew he had the talent and, more importantly, the drive to work towards it.”
Lawless’s track record makes it easy to understand why Messina and Zagare have so much confidence in his abilities because they said he is dedicated in everything he does and works to improve himself constantly.
“When I do something, I don’t want to do it so-so,” Lawless said. “I want to fully commit myself to everything I do. If I decide to do something, I make sure I can fully commit to it. That’s something I hold myself to. So whenever I get done with homework or anything, if I have extra time, I practice because it’s something I enjoy. Instead of going on my phone for hours, I spend time practicing and getting better.”
Lawless first started singing in middle school, inspired by watching his older sisters’ performances in the Malverne music program and watching them at competitions.
“I saw them both go through band for four years,” Lawless said of his sisters, Shannon and Elizabeth, who are both in college. “I went to all those band competitions and it just brought up this really big interest for me. In elementary school, music is more laid back. So once I got into high school with kids who really wanted to be in music, it made me want to pursue music. There are a lot of different opportunities the program offers.”
Messina estimated that about 225 students — roughly a third of the high school’s study body — participate in the music program in some capacity. One of the benefits of the music program is providing students the opportunity to participate in more than one music program at the same time.
“It’s amazing how much of the school has participated in music,” Messina said. “In Malverne we set up the program so students can effectively be in the band, the chorus and the orchestra at the same time. Many schools are not like that. We’re creating a musician with such a comprehensive music education.”
Being named to the National Honor Choir made Lawless realize that he can pursue music in college and beyond. Music is a passion for Lawless, and rehearsing is in many ways its own reward.
“The joy that music gives me is sort of fuel in and of itself to practice and put in all this work,” he said. “I do listen to a lot of classical music. It doesn’t need lyrics to portray emotion. And I like learning the stories behind the different pieces.”