Josh Norsen is confident in his abilities.
When the Ottawa High School senior received the call to sing five songs with the best-of-the-best musicians at the Illinois Music Education Association's All-State concert with two days to practice, he knew he could do it.
"I spent every minute breaking that music down, trying to drill it into my head," said Josh, who stepped in as a last-minute alternate. "It still sticks in my head."
One of those days of preparation was a Friday, meaning Josh had to work around his school schedule to practice. Thankfully, many of his teachers excused him to rehearse.
He left that Friday afternoon to meet up with the 23 other students in the group. They sang together for a day, then performed.
Ottawa choir teacher Spencer Rockford said what Josh accomplished was difficult, but he was not surprised how gracefully Josh handled it.
"He's definitely very mature," Rockford said. "He takes a lot of pride in what he does."
Josh enjoys getting to meet new people and perform with them, especially when they have the same appreciation for music he does.
"It was an amazing group," Josh said. "We all still stay in touch. We all keep together. We share so many stories."
Much of Josh's free time is devoted to music. He begins at 7 each morning practicing his vocals at a piano and teaching himself the instrument. He started playing piano about a year and a half ago. He doesn't learn a song by ear — a talent he acknowledges is amazing — but he knows some chords and scales.
"Every day there's something new I learn with it," he said of the piano.
Josh learned to read music in fifth grade, calling it a second language. Also an alto and baritone saxophone player, he hopes to compose his own music in the near future.
"Music can be so powerful, especially songs with a good message. The power is in the way they are delivered, the way the message is delivered."
He likes jazz, because of the diversity in its sound.
He listens to some of the classic crooners like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. He also enjoys newer stuff, such as The Lumineers and Passenger, taking in the tunes mostly on his phone, but sometimes on an old vinyl record player.
While Josh is drawn to music, he also plays tennis, bowls, works with freshmen in the DoChange mentoring group and helps organize events in the Fine Arts Club.
He wants to keep music as a top hobby, setting his sights on teaching computer-aided design (CAD) for a career.
There is a technical aspect in both music and drafting that appeals to Josh.
"Josh is just so capable of doing things, his talent and ability, that my coursework is not difficult at all for him," said Ottawa CAD instructor Ed Frankenberger, who has taught Josh all four years of high school. "Many of my best students also are very involved in music."
Josh was inspired by Frankenberger to go into the teaching field, understanding there is a need for CAD instructors across the country.
"Teachers have changed my life. I want to do that for other people, too," he said.
Josh has developed into a leader, a skill his teachers say blossoms more each day and will make him a strong mentor if he continues on his desired career path.
"He takes ownership and pride in what he does," Rockford said. "He helps other kids do that, and helps them see what he does in their work."
Looking back on his experiences in music, Josh believes it has taught him how to be a leader.
"It's taught me how to figure things out, how to listen to others," Josh said. "It's pushed me."