Youth chorus makes debut Saturday

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 07:13 AM

Crowded together on the red carpeted steps of First Presbyterian Church's sanctuary in Lenoir, 26 girls ages 7 to 18 opened their mouths wide and exaggerated to form the perfect vowel sounds in the blues tune "Mary Had a Little Blues," which plays on the familiar nursery school rhyme. The girls harmonized together, and you could hardly tell the major age differences between them. As soon as the song stopped, the giggling, grinning and good-natured teasing began. Bailey McCowan grabbed the hand of Rachel Lowery and swung it back and forth, trying to call attention to Lowry who had been mockingly posing for an imaginary camera.

"It's nice to work with all the people because we make each other laugh and stuff," McCowan said.

Immediately, all the girls pointed to McCowan, making it known that it was she who made most of the jokes and caused most of the hilarity. McCowan just grinned in sheepish admission.

The group is the Youth Ensemble Singers, recently created by director Keith Smith for girls from upper elementary to high school to sing a traditional style of music. Their debut will be in a free concert Saturday night alongside the Caldwell Men's Chorus, also directed by Smith.

“Church choirs are aging out. I bet the median church choir age range in this area is like 60-something, probably,” Smith said. “You have a few 20s or 30s, but some many people are in their 60s and 70s. I just don’t want to see that traditional music die out, and I want to see the young people have some sense of tradition and understand how important it is in music.”

YES will open the concert at the First Presbyterian Church in Lenoir at 7:30 p.m. They will sing some hymns, a folk song, a sacred Latin number, “Mary Had a Little Blues,” a Spanish piece and “Dandelions.”

Smith already has high hopes for YES, including a trip to Europe in five years, state tours and performing at the Carowinds Festival of Music.

The girls are excited to work on different types of music, including hymn, folk, Latin and blues. They also learn music theory, a study that explains why a piece of music is written in that particular manner.

Carmen Boone, 16, said, “I think we get exposed to all different kinds of music. It’s fun to be with the girls who are all different ages and get to sing together.”

Sarah Newbury, 11, said, “I like to come here because I get to hear different girls sing different from other people. It’s a great experience.”

Smith plans to hold open auditions in late August to bring in new members. He said he hopes to bring the group up to 100 girls in the future.

When they are not singing, Smith created an environment where the older singers can be mentors to their younger group members.

"Beyond the singing, which is the main thing obviously, . . . we’re trying to teach them, like the older girls to mentor the younger girls, and the young girls to be able to look up to the older girls. It’s a whole big thing of trust. Some of the girls don’t have great self-confidence, so it’s been a big builder of that for them," Smith said.

Mikalaa Martin, 15, said she loves inspiring the younger girls and being in a role of leadership.

“It’s an awesome feeling to have the other girls look up to me,” she said.

The Caldwell Men's Chorus and the Youth Ensemble Singers will perform in a free concert on Saturday, May 3, at 7:30 at the First Presbyterian Church in Lenoir, 1002 Kirkwood St NW.