Amazing Grace! NKN freshman goes all-out for all-state choir

Neah-Kah-Nie High School freshman Grace Miller may have a reputation for being quiet and shy – but she certainly knows how to make her voice heard loud and clear.

By Ann Powers

By singing. Really, really well.

So well in fact, the 14-year-old has been selected as one of the top female high school vocalists statewide. She’s an Oregon Music Educators Association (OMEA) All State Choir winner.

OMEA recognizes the best student musicians at the elementary, middle and high school level from all across the state. Miller found out she made the cut during her school’s morning announcements last month.

“And I freaked out,” she recalled. “I was like, wait, what? I was in the middle of class and everybody turned to look at me, and I was like – me?”

Neah-Kah-Nie High School freshman Grace Miller warms up her vocal cords at the beginning of choir practice, led by her teacher Michael Simpson. Photo by Ann Powers

Along with her NKNHS choir teacher, Michael Simpson, Miller heads to the Hilton Hotel & Conference Center, Jan. 12 – 15, to rehearse and perform at OMEA’s annual state convention. Simpson has known Miller since she was a preschooler and started teaching her when in she was in elementary school.

“She’s got this silent drive; I call it ‘The Submarine,’” Simpson said. “Like this submarine that’s hunting. She is laser-focused and has a definite goal, but she goes about it without advertising. She flies under the radar a lot.”

Miller has been in choir since the sixth grade and is thinking about pursuing a professional singing career someday. Her talent and determination has family members beaming with pride.

“She sings constantly. She sings at home, in public – like Fred Meyer,” quipped her mother, Laurie Miller. “We are just so proud of her.”

Grace started preparing for the All State Choir tryouts in September and practiced daily. She submitted a tape of herself singing an a cappella version of “American the Beautiful.”

“I kind of had to be motivated in doing it and I was really interested from the start,”
Grace noted. “I thought it would be a fun thing to do and it would be a great experience, so I did practice a lot.”

NKN freshman Grace Miller and her choir teacher, Michael Simpson. Photo by Ann Powers

However, at first it didn’t seem like practice was going to make perfect. Initially, Grace didn’t make OMEA’s cut. Simpson said he was notified of her non-selection and broke the news to the young vocalist.

But, true to her name, Grace handled the disappointing news with just exactly that – grace.

“I wasn’t exactly upset,” she said. “I was like, okay, cool. I can get in next year.”

But, now she doesn’t have to wait that long. After the initial selections were made, OMEA officials contacted Simpson again, via email, saying a spot had opened up. They wanted to know if Grace was still interested.

“I couldn’t type ‘YES!’ – with all caps and an exclamation point – fast enough,” Simpson said.

About 2,400 students statewide applied and 116 other female singers will join Grace in the treble choir’s performance on Jan. 15, according to OMEA Co-Executive Director Jim Howell.

He added roughly one-third of the students applying are selected to perform in an All-State musical event – which also includes bands and orchestras. Prior to the final stage performance, the youngsters have 12-hour practice sessions, with breaks, during the three-day conference.

“This is a big, big deal,” Howell said. “These kids are a pretty elite, self-selecting group. They’re the ones who were willing to put in the effort.”

The state convention also hosts a music teacher in-service training for 500 instructors. The performances are open to the public.

“Because of the bravery of Grace, I hope other kids are inspired by this to go through the process,” Simpson said. “Not only does it make them better singers, but it makes the choir better and more confident as well.”

For more information about tickets and times for the various performances, visit