SHELDON, Iowa -- Brian Nilles auditioned for the Iowa All-State Music Festival Chorus at Storm Lake High School last month. Judges called him back to audition solo. Nilles, a senior at Sheldon High School, did what was asked, then waited. And waited. And waited.
"They bring this big list into the gym and attach it high on the wall and then let it roll down," Nilles said.
Nilles scanned the list and found his name, going first to the "S" category for Sheldon High. In landing a spot with the chorus, he became the fifth 4-time all-stater to come from the Orabs ranks in recent years.
The Iowa All-State Music Festival was held at Iowa State University in Ames on Saturday. Iowa Public Television airs the concert at 7 p.m. Thursday. Rebroadcasts follow at 2 a.m. Friday, 2 a.m. on Nov. 27, and 1 p.m. on Dec. 2.
In recent years, a unique sister-act consisting of the Lidiaks (Olivia and Emily) and the Gudes (Madeline and Rosa) have performed, three of them in four years of their high school careers, at the Iowa All-State Music Festival. Before them, Katherine Bomgaars achieved the last of her four straight all-state laurels in 2013.
"Ever since Rosa Gude earned all-state, our families have watched the concert around Thanksgiving," said Nilles. "Our families are pretty good friends."
The son of Paul and Esther Nilles, of Ashton, Iowa, is a baritone in Brandon Lenderink's choir, who practiced daily prior to auditions. When he was done with the try-out, he said, he recalled a couple of notes upon which he could have improved. He didn't dwell on it, though.
"There were also parts I sang pretty well," he said.
Nilles remembered how quiet the gymnasium at Storm Lake High School grew when the lists were posted on the wall. As they were unveiled, there was a strange mix of jubilation and disappointment. Some, like him, would be heading to Ames. Many others simply fell short.
"You get all the emotions possible in a matter of seconds," he said. "I high-fived some friends after I found my name. But, I also wanted to respect the feelings of others who didn't make it."
Nilles headed to Ames along with Sheldon High School classmate Lexie Merly, a first-time all-stater, also a member of the choir. The concert represents one of the highlights of his high school year. "For me, it's about being there with 600 people in a choir, everyone in sync with the music. Two full days of singing with the all-state choir is amazing," he said.
It's not Nilles' lone musical highlight, though. Last weekend, Nilles played Andre in Sheldon High School's musical production of "Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels." He sang a solo as well as two duets and took part in a number of songs that involved a bulk of the cast. The show resulted in at least one standing ovation, which came after the cast took its bows on Saturday.
"We might have gotten a standing ovation on Friday night, but I really couldn't tell," Nilles said. "I had some stage lights directly in my eyes on Friday and I couldn't see anything out in the crowd."
His senior year began in music and soon on the football field at Sheldon, where Nilles played percussion for the marching band directed by Cliff St. Clair. In a field show that tipped a cap to Neil Diamond, Nilles and Sheldon senior Jon Sterk dropped their sticks and ran to midfield at the start of the final song.
"Jon and I sang part of Neil Diamond's 'Coming to America' and then ran back to our drums," he said, noting how the band earned a Division I (superior) rating at the State contest.
The incorporating of song into the marching band show may have its roots with Rosa Gude, the aforementioned four-time all-stater who helped inspire Nilles. "It was a few years ago and I remember watching Rosa march at halftime and her clarinet or oboe froze because it was so cold," he said. "With her instrument broke and being unable to play, she took her microphone and sang that part of the song. I think Mr. St. Clair liked the result."
When he returns home, Nilles will continue his senior year while serving on the student council, playing in the band, singing in show choir, choir, jazz choir and more. Once he graduates, Nilles said he'll likely head to the University of Iowa to study political science and theater.
"I like theater," he said with a smile. "And I also like politics."