Bringing Music Appreciation to Area Youth
By Monica Kaplan
There is a memorable line in the movie classic “The Sound of Music” that could have been spoken by Arlene Hardy, the Artistic Director of Yavapai Youth Choirs program:
“Is there a more beautiful expression of what is good in this country of ours than the innocent voices of our children?”
This same view is what motivates Hardy to continue to build and expand the youth choral program she and Amy Van Winkle started in 2014. This fall she is adding a third choir option into the mix, one for 9-11 year-olds, and for the first time it includes boys.
“This is an exciting new opportunity for the younger kids who love to sing and want to get started on enhancing their musical education,” says Hardy.
Hardy, along with her new two co-directors, Michelle Grubert and Scott Neese, are particularly energized about bringing boys into their youth line-up for the first time. This new group will complement the two existing all-girls’ choirs, which are for ages 12-18. The first girls’ choir is a touring, advanced ensemble (Voci Sorella), and the second is a preparatory choir, (Angelo Voci). Both groups are by audition.
Hardy says all three groups focus on teaching healthy singing techniques, music theory, sight-reading, and providing performance opportunities and exposure to the broader world of music appreciation and education.
Hardy began directing the Women’s Chorale at Yavapai College in 1996, when her family moved to Prescott. She continued as director for eight years, returning in 2015 and has been at the helm since. She is also the founder and director of the Prescott Women’s Chamber Choir since 2002. However, her love for the sweet sounds of younger voices has always inspired and motivated her.
“I remember when I would be researching a piece for my women’s groups, music kept popping up for youth choirs, and I found myself really drawn to it. Most of the songs were about how children are the hope of the future. I see them as people, ready to blossom, and I really value what they have to offer.”
As she enters the third year of working with the two girls’ choirs, she is sad she will be moving forward without VanWinkle for now, who is taking a sabbatical
“She’s a large part of why I wanted to start this program,” Hardy says about her co-founder. “She is by far one of the finest music educators you will find. But I’m also excited to have someone like Scott Neese, who’s been an instructor at YC since 2016.”
Neese will be directing the preparatory girls’ choir, and Michelle Grubert will be working with the new ages 9-11 boys’ and girls’ choir. Hardy will direct the advanced girls’ group, but will again assume the role of artistic director over all three groups.
“We will be collaborating as a team throughout this upcoming season. It’s very important to us also that we collaborate out in the community as well. We want to be another choral opportunity for kids to participate in that will only enhance what they’re already doing in their schools. That’s really of major importance to me – to work with the choirs in the area school systems.”
Looking ahead, Hardy has long-range goals of adding a choir with older boys, whose voices have made the change, and then mixing them with the advanced women’s voices.
“With older boys there is a whole other repertoire of music to choose from,” states the busy choral director, mother of three and accomplished operatic, musical theater and solo singer herself. “The timbre, the sonority, the overall sound complex is different. There’s more base and depth to it that women can’t have.”
For this upcoming season, one of Hardy’s area of focus will include scheduling the three vocal groups for more charity concerts and benefits; and taking the advanced group on tours and entering them in competitions.
There are so many competitions out there for youth choirs, she states.
“One thing wonderful about festivals and choir competitions is they motivate you to practice and achieve. It’s about what we accomplish in rehearsals for these special events and the growth that comes inherently from the preparation.
“It also exposes them to what else is out there in the musical world, and where they fit in the whole.”
When it comes to talking about what part she can play in grooming young people for their future, that’s where this energetic, passionate music lover gets the most animated.
“I want to be a part of helping to shape them. I see how music can be used to build the future of these kids.
“Part of what’s going on is I find hope in the youth,” she adds. “I want to help build their self-esteem now, so they can take it with them into whatever role they’re going to do in their lives. All the tools we use in music are synthesized into life in general. It goes hand in hand. The discipline in music is something you can incorporate into life.
“I am blessed I can use music to help build them into productive, responsible adults, along with fostering a lifelong enjoyment of music.”
Auditions for placement into the preparatory (Angelo Voci) or advanced (Voci Sorella) choirs can be set up by calling Lorrie Vodika, in the Yavapai College Music Department, at (928)776-2045. To register for the new beginning choir for boys and girls ages 9-11, also call (928)776-2045. The first rehearsal date for all three groups is Monday, August 21. The 9-11 age group will practice from 4-5 p.m.; and the girls’ choirs will practice from 4 – 6:30 p.m.