Published: Feb 21, 2012 09:49 PM
Modified: Feb 18, 2012 01:52 PM
Teaching music is a family affair
Wake County kin prep for D.C. event
RALEIGH - Meredith Clayton is 29 years old, but she still sometimes goes to work with her mom.And her mother-in-law.All three are high school choral instructors in Wake County public schools. And all three are leading their choirs to the exclusive, invitation-only Presidents Day Festival Chorus at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on Monday."It's nice to have someone who understands ..." Meredith began as the three sat in a Raleigh coffee shop on a recent Wednesday."Understands what it took to get there ..." her mom, Diane Covington, added."So you have someone to celebrate with," her mother-in-law, Joy Clayton, agreed.The three school choirs singing at the Presidents Day Festival are the Garner Magnet High School Die Meistersingers, under Meredith's direction; the Leesville Road High School Capital Pride, headed by Diane Covington, 55; and the Athens Drive High School Vocal Ensemble, led by Joy Clayton, 60.The concert isn't just invitation-only: you actually have to be invited to audition. The selections are made from schools across the nation. This year, Wake County choirs fill three of the six slots at the event.It's rare to have even two choirs from the same state, event producer Edmundo Montoya said. Three is a first."Apparently there's a tremendous amount of talent there in North Carolina," Montoya said.Wake County schools' staff and administrators have been highly supportive of the trip, Diane said. A handful of principals and assistant principals even plan to attend.The district provides a strong network for choral instructors year-round, Diane said - and then there's the family connection."The three of us have this extra little support," Diane said.Meredith met Joy Clayton in 2005, when Athens Drive was hosting the high school All-County Chorus event. They immediately became friends and headed to Joy's office for a chat. That's where Meredith caught a glimpse of her future husband: Joy's son, Ryan Clayton, smiling from a photograph.Fast-forward two years: Joy and Diane had become friends as well. Meredith and Ryan were both single. The moms arranged a blind date.It wasn't just physical attraction, Meredith says. The two families have an uncanny amount in common.The dads are involved in church work that meant frequent moves for their families early on, finally settling in Raleigh. Meredith's father, David Covington, is director of music at the First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh. Rick Clayton is pastor of Hayes Barton United Methodist Church.Both families are intensely musical, with a strong spiritual focus. Their siblings were the same age and both attended Western Carolina University. Joy has taught chorus at Athens Drive High for seven years; Diane has taught chorus at Leesville Road High for 18.Eleven months after that date, Meredith and Ryan became engaged. They've been married nearly three years.As Joy, Diane and Meredith navigate hectic schedules of church and school commitments, they agree it's nice to have close family members who understand the 12-hour days of parent meetings, open houses and class.Now the three are supporting each other through the intense preparations for Monday's prestigious performance. Their students sold everything from Chick-fil-A calendars to cheesecakes to earn the $900 apiece to make the trip.The music is very difficult, some with complicated melodies and lyrics in Latin. Singing with other choirs, led by different conductors, takes practice and adjustment.Having a family tie between the three leaders is invaluable to bonding the choirs to sing well together, Diane said."They watch us support each other," Diane said. "We try to make sure our students aren't competitive, and it helps to see that we are not competitive - that we build each other up."