Hitting the High Notes

Madison Youth Choirs celebrates ten years of musical growth

Members of the Madison Youth Choirs. Photo by Harriet Chen.

Members of the Madison Youth Choirs. Photo by Harriet Chen.

Madison Youth Choirs has a lot to celebrate this spring. With more than five hundred members, performances on some of the biggest stages in Madison and outstanding artistic collaborations, the choir is ready to mark its tenth anniversary with a three-performance concert on May 19. 

The concert features new pieces and past favorites, performed by all eleven choirs to celebrate ten years of growth in the organization, which formed in 2003 through a merger of the Madison Boychoir and Madison Children’s Choir. 

Executive director Mike Ross says while many things have changed over the past decade, one thing remains the same: a passion to serve every kid and foster a love of music.

“We want our program to look more and more like Madison,” he says. “We never turn kids away. Whatever we need to do, we’re going to do.”

Since 2003, MYC has doubled its membership size and nearly tripled its scholarship funding. The choir has also stopped auditioning younger kids and accepts all children interested in the program, as a way to give every child an opportunity to explore the musical world at an early age.

“Our introductory classes get kids thinking about how they see the world using music as that lens,” Ross says. “We get them analyzing everything they hear and see, while having a great time doing it.”

In addition to community engagement, MYC also emphasizes musical education. The program strives to incorporate literature and learning into music. “We design a semester-long thematic experience where children can really get a chance to think deeply and critically,” Ross says. 

In fact, after members read a book together, discuss it and study it, they develop an entire concert centered on the book’s major themes.

Kristin Sobol, whose son Will has been with the program for six years, says she’s grateful for the kind of artistic experience MYC offers boys. “I wouldn’t want to diminish the academic level of the musical education,” she says. “That kind of artistic experience is unusual for boys.”

Sobol believes the program helps Will in understanding the deeper meanings and metaphors in literature. “The artistic directors really challenge the members,” she says. “It’s a very supportive atmosphere.”

But the close relationship between academia and music doesn’t stop there. MYC has collaborated with two elementary schools to form Adopt-A-School—a project designed to engage students through an in-school choir.

“There are kids out there who would love to be part of the program, but maybe don’t want to make that full commitment, so we want to reach out and find other ways to support them and get them enthused about singing,” Ross says. “We really want to be part of the schools’ musical culture.”

While other collaborations have included Edgewood College, Opera for the Young and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, to name a few, Ross says their biggest collaboration has been with Madison Ballet, with whom they share rehearsal space at Westgate Mall.

This partnership, however, is more than just an artistic collaboration. To Ross, the simple, daily interactions that come from the close proximity of both programs are what truly matters. “We’re two artistic nonprofits working closely together,” he says. “It’s not the kind of artistic collaboration that you might expect, but for me, it’s much deeper than that.”

And those kinds of interactions make all the difference when it comes to showtime. In preparation for the spring concert, Ross is looking back on his ten years with MYC. “As artistic director, I get to see the big picture,” he says.

Ross, who’s been with the program from the start, says his favorite part of the job is watching the kids transform as musical performers. “I often get to see the seven- and eight-year-olds, and get to see them nine years later,” he says. “It’s amazing for me to watch that kind of growth, but especially amazing to hear them talk about it. The power that music can have over this long period of time is truly spectacular.”

And for Sobol, attending rehearsals every week feels like watching a performance in itself. “I can’t imagine anything better. I walk out feeling really good and proud,” she says. And when it comes to this year’s anniversary performance, she says Will couldn’t be more thrilled. “All the boys get really excited about performing,” she says. “They love the opportunity to sing in front of people. They know how good they are.”

Madison Youth Choirs performs at Overture’s Capitol Theater on Sunday, May 19. For more information on Madison Youth Choirs, visit madisonyouthchoirs.org.

Ellen Molina is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.

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