Nothing starts off the December music season as well as hearing a group of young singers put their all into a performance. Monarch Youth Chorus, under the direction of Michelle Boulware with an assist from pianist Heidi Toy, performed their second festive holiday kick off program December 1 at St. Timothy’s Church in Monterey. This group was founded in September 2014 to give local 2nd through 12th graders a place for learning choral music that is missing in most schools. While still a small group, they are nonetheless hard workers featuring mostly returning students with happy faces and good voices. This program is divided between Prelude – for second through fifth graders – and Encore for sixth through twelfth graders. Music groups are the ultimate “team sport.” Where else is everyone on the same beat of the same measure at the same time? So many skills are taught through music and especially singing groups.
Prelude members, eight students strong, opened the program with “Christmas Toys on Parade” by Mark Weston. Nicely held unison with delightful memories of “Toy Parade” from many years past. Another golden oldie of the season, “The Chipmunk Song,” featured soloists Dakota Boulware and Isabella Hollcraft. This version by these kids definitely more than held their own against the original chipmunks. Mary Goetze’s arrangement of “Dormi Dormi,” a gentle Italian carol well suited this group. Change of mood followed with the ever popular “Rockin’ Round The Christmas Tree.” Closing out this first half was the Alan Billingsley arrangement of “When Christmas Comes to Town” from the film “Polar Express.” Again Isabella partnered with Katie Armstrong for a duet, and Dakota partnered with Lily Berrysmith to confident effect within the group. While songs are mainly unison, achieving a good blended vocal unison takes concentration and practice. Listening skills are certainly reinforced by knowing how your voice fits in with the group. Ms. Boulware continues to exhibit her knack for choosing repertoire that is age appropriate and musically challenging as well as entertaining.
Eleven students in Encore began the second half with “Christmas Fanfare.” The maturity of this older group is really beginning to show. Most of these young people auditioned for and were chosen for the Central Coast Section (CCS) Honor Choir. This opening was the vocal equivalent of a brass fanfare. The following numbers were a good mix of styles which also showed off the versatility of this group and Boulware’s leadership. A Mary Val Marsh arrangement of the familiar “Fum, Fum, Fum” with “Pat-a-Pan” was followed by “Winter Wonderland of Snow” including the familiar “Winter Wonderland” melody. A most lively and a cappella “Jamaican Noel” as arranged by Kirby Shaw was another change of vocal character performed with great enthusiasm and finger snap percussion. While not listed officially, Isaiah Boulware demonstrated his solo prowess with descant over the group parts. “Starry Night of Winter” changed moods to provide a lovely setting definitely evoking how a wintery night might look. Linda Spevacek’s “Hanukkah Nagilah” provided a multi tempo style touching on a bit of everything connected to a celebration of Hanukkah. The lively end of the program was Lynn Shaw Bailey’s “Jingle Bell Dash.”
The desire to sing and work with Ms. Boulware to prepare this program was most evident in observing the students speak with her after the program. Genuine smiles and “feel good” looks were all there when thanking her.
Monarch Youth Chorus deserves all the support you can give. With very few opportunities to participate in vocal music in many of the peninsula’s schools, this group offers not only the vocal experience but also the chance to be part of a group dynamic under the leadership of a fine local musician and music educator, Michelle Boulware. Interested in promoting this endeavor by spreading the word? Go to the website <monarchyouthchorus.com> to find details about starting back up on January 20, 2016.