We spoke with the founding directors of the Yavapai Youth Choir, Arlene Hardy and Amy Van Winkle, about what's happening with their program.
What is Yavapai Youth Choirs, and why did you start it?
Arlene: There are so many children that want voice lessons. A choir is a great place for kids to play and learn how to use their instruments (voices) with proper vocal instruction.
Amy: In an ensemble setting, they build confidence in their voices while honing their social skills. Arlene and I are able to provide a combination of vocal technique and music education. Arlene’s expertise with the voice is incomparable. She knows exactly how to produce those gorgeous sounds. My expertise is in music skills like sight-reading and ear training.
Arlene: There is no one better at music education than Amy.
Amy: I am a nerd. Even now I have this tuning fork in my pocket. Every day, I grab it and my lip balm, and off we go. I love when our girls say, “I was at the grocery store and this song came on, and I used solfège to figure out the melody.” It’s pretty cool; we are developing really beautiful singers — and nerds.
Who can participate, and what can they expect?
Arlene: We have something for everyone within the program. Currently we have five choirs of young people between the ages of nine and 18, girls and boys.
Amy: Soon we'll add in even younger ones, beginning in first grade.
Arlene: The goal is to take the kiddos right where they're at and grow them as choral musicians. The audition process is for placement in whatever choir will provide them with the most success, with the intention of moving them forward to the more advanced choirs.
Amy: We build on different skills using the Kodaly method. First, we play games and explore. Then, we make the connection between those visceral experiences and musical elements. I’ll say, “This thing you’ve been playing with is called a triad, a do-so-mi, and this is what it looks like on the staff.” The kids say, “That’s no big deal; we’ve been working on that for weeks.” Finally we apply what they learn in my class to their choral music.
What have been some highlights from the last six years?
Arlene: Our first concert was a big highlight, a strong beginning. I was so proud of what the choirs accomplished in a short time. It made me think, “Yay, this is real; we’re doing this.”
Amy: Another highlight was the master class with Cantus, a renowned professional men’s choral ensemble from Minneapolis. The men gave our choir glowing praise for their pitch and musicianship as well as their ability to apply the vocal concepts being presented.
Arlene: Coming from those amazing professionals who do collaborations all over the world, this was high praise for our choir. It was clear our YYC kids wanted to do well for themselves and to learn as much as possible. Our choral tour in Toronto was another big first and another glowing success. The girls who went gained invaluable experience. First they had a one-on-one session with Henry Leck, an eminent youth choral expert and director of the Indiana Children’s Choir. He acknowledged them for what they were already doing, saying, “Well, your cake is baked and frosted. The only thing I’m doing is putting sprinkles on it.” The girls were so excited to get those sprinkles and every ounce of direction. Their professionalism on that trip was remarkable. We took 17 young women for a weeklong festival. It was so special to see how they interacted with everyone, from the directors to the hotel staff to the bus driver, all of whom loved them. The girls were polite and eager and showed their gratitude by singing for folks everywhere we went. That is such a part of who we are. We are teaching them how to be ambassadors for our choirs and for our community.
What are you excited about for the future?
Amy: We are really excited to target underserved kids in our community. We want YYC and choral music to be accessible to anyone. We are reaching out to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA and Big Brothers-Big Sisters so that we can bring in those kids using scholarship funds.
Arlene: We are growing our organization because we see so much value in it for kids. We are teaching them life skills — professionalism, discipline, service — as well as giving them the chance to be and express themselves while making beautiful music with others. Choral music can bring together the most eclectic group of people because they find a common cause. They become a team, their own quirky little family, that learns the fruits of working together and sharing their gifts.
YYC Placement auditions run July 19-23 and August 2-6.
Rehearsals and classes are on Monday afternoons beginning August 23
The next performance is their Holiday Concert, December 11.