Chorale Des Amis
08/25/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Gallery: Chorale Des Amis [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
Chorale Des Amis
By Hailey Hensgens Fleming
Anyone who knows Acadiana, knows music is a part of the lifeblood of the community. However, Chorale Des Amis, an up-and-coming local community choir, is hoping to take that understanding a step further for several of the area’s youth. Through this organization, young vocalists will have the opportunity to learn and expand on their choral skills, like sight reading, blending and performing, all while having a great time and sharing Acadiana culture in surrounding areas.
The dream of such an organization began with Holly Grefe, the highly esteemed Director of Choral Studies at Lafayette High School. Due to scheduling difficulties and funding cuts, music education in the public school system has become less accessible to many students. Thus, her dream arose out of a desire to make music education available to those students outside of regular school hours. She approached Ellen McLemore, the former Director of Keyboard Studies in the Lafayette Performing Arts Academy, with the idea and they worked to make that dream a reality.
Together with Rusty Roden, Associate Director of Chorale Des Amis, the three make a stellar board of directors, highly equipped to guide and instruct. With 22 years of choral music instruction under her belt, Grefe is a great asset to the community choir with the current choir program under her direction garnering 181 awards. McLemore boasts several years experience in music education at all grade levels with a background in choral instruction as well. Additionally, Roden offers his extensive choral and performance knowledge while also serving as the co-artistic director for Chorale Acadienne as well as the music instructor at Episcopal School of Acadiana in Lafayette.
As instructors and directors they are determined to create an environment conducive for learning while also providing an opportunity for area students to have fun and meet like-minded individuals. Emma Catherine, a student at the Academy of Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau and member of La Chorale, says, “Chorale Des Amis is going to be such an awesome group. With students from a lot of different schools across Acadiana, I really think this is going to be an awesome way to meet new people and make new friends.”
Although the choral experience is guaranteed to be enjoyable for any participant, it has much more to offer than just a good time. As teachers in the Lafayette Parish School System, these directors know the importance of music instruction and have seen the benefits first hand. “We have found that music education, in general, is a positive addition to a student’s overall education,” states McLemore. “Students who are musically trained test better and do better all the way around because they’re self disciplined from practicing and studying specific ideas and skills.”
Not only can participation grow a student individually, but it can also have a great impact on area schools. Directors Grefe and McLemore have a strong desire to see local school programs grow and flourish. “Iron sharpens iron. So, we don’t want to compete. In fact, we are strongly encouraging our students to be members of the choirs at their schools,” McLemore explains. “Our desire is to build strong singers to go back into their choirs at school so they can be leaders and therefore choirs in schools get stronger.”
Although strong singers are the end goal of the organization, you are not required to be one in order to claim your spot. Chorale Des Amis, French for “choir of friends,” is open to all students in 2nd through 12th grades in Lafayette and surrounding areas who have an interest in music and singing. “We named it that because we wanted to have a choir that would include all types of students,” explains McLemore. “We are looking for trainable students. Not necessarily trained students. If we can see the potential and trainability then we are not concerned with where they start.”
Students will be organized into three separate choirs according to their musical level, skill and age. The introductory choir, “La Petite Chantuers,” will provide foundational instruction for young singers in a fun, high-energy environment. The advanced choir, “La Chorale,” will be comprised of singers with advanced vocal technique and music reading skills and will likely be made up of students from middle to high school. When numbers are such that it is possible, the first traditional boys choir in Acadiana will be formed. Called “Les Garcons,” this choir will be made up of boys with an unchanged voice, accommodating students possibly up to 8th or 9th grade.
Choir members will not only be learning the ins and outs of vocal skills and performance in the classroom, but they will also have the opportunity to put those skills to practice through public performance. McLemore says, “Our goal is taking students to different places to experience life outside of Acadiana as well as to share Acadiana with other people. Touring is a benefit.”
In addition to their independent Christmas and spring concerts, chorale members can look forward to collaborating with other local organizations. Even before the choirs have been finalized, Chorale Des Amis has received invitations to perform with the Acadiana Symphony in December, with Chorale Acadienne in the spring, and to participate in a program at Carnegie Hall in New York City next May. Although touring is a benefit of the choir, travel will not be required. Furthermore, middle and high school choir members will have the opportunity to audition for Allstate Choir, a distinction for which only the most skilled vocalists across the state are chosen.
The multiple benefits of the program are not without cost, however. Students are asked to pay a tuition fee of $500 for the academic year to cover cost of music, accompaniment, weekly instruction and administrative fees. When the cost of other extracurricular activities is taken into account, it would be considered a very reasonable fee. “We’ve kept the cost low because we want a wide variety of students and don’t want to keep anyone out. We don’t want just one socio-economic group or one city represented. We want a reflection of Acadiana in the choir,” McLemore states. They hope to be able to provide tuition assistance through sponsorship for those who are unable to pay. She adds, “We want to share the chorale experience with everyone, so we do need sponsors to help us pay for students who are unable to.”
Chorale Des Amis is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and all individual or corporate sponsorships are tax-deductible. Contributions can be made toward tuition fees, programs and travel expenses - the cost of which will be the responsibility of each chorale member. Fundraisers will be coordinated, but the immediate need for this year is tuition assistance for a few of the more than 40 students who have already been selected.
The final round of auditions will be held on August 14 at the Acadiana Symphony offices at 412 Travis St. from 5 – 7 p.m. Applicants will be asked to sing the first verse of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and to have a parent or guardian present. Anyone interested should call or email to set up an audition time, although walk-ins will be accepted. Rehearsals will begin August 21. If you or someone you know is interested in sponsorship or volunteering you can contact Ellen McLemore for more information.