Sing out with glee! La Jolla after-school choral groups showcase talent, passion and acceptance

By Ashley Mackin

Recent research suggests physiological changes occur when young people sing together, reports Louise Carmon, Bishop’s Upper School Choral Music Director. “There is a gene in the brain that clicks on ... their hearts synchronize.”

Carmon is the director of the Bishop’s Singers, an advanced, auditioned group that performs in and out of school.

“Kids love to be a part of something, and singing together is like being in a club or team ... they create something beautiful together,” she said.

The Bishop’s School has several choirs that have spawned singing clubs, and while none have the “glee” name, they serve as an outlet for those bitten by the music bug.

Anna Shuster, a Bishop’s senior, is a part of the a cappella club. For her, singing clubs provide a social element where students with similar interests can come together and do what they are passionate about.

Referring to the art requirement imposed on all students, she said, “When I started at Bishop’s, I thought, how am I going to do this? I don’t do art. But I had a lot of friends, and they all sang, and I went to their concerts and they all seemed to be having a good time and they sounded incredible. So I thought I’d give it a shot and I completely fell in love with it.”

Halfway through her sophomore year, Shuster started the a cappella club. “I knew I didn’t have time to participate in choir, but I like to sing,” she said.

And she’s not the only one. The a cappella club boasts a varsity cross-country runner, a Chapel Council member and an Academic League member, so there’s a lot of student diversity.

The story is similar at La Jolla Country Day School (LJCDS). Junior Brendon Grepo said being a part of the glee club — which they call the show choir — is just as much a social experience as it is a chance to sing.

“At first, I questioned doing the whole thing, I wasn’t sure if I would like it,” he said. “But immediately after joining and going to practices, the people were so nice and we just had the best time. I’ve made tons of friends from being in glee club.”

LJCDS show choir director Carrie Dietsch also noticed diversity among the students who want to be a part of the glee club. She said it’s not uncommon for a football player to run off the field to sing the National Anthem with the show choir before a game.

She helped establish the show choir at LJCDS, and said there was interest right away. “When we held our first audition, we were shocked to see 30 kids lined up, and that’s the smallest number of kids we’ve had come to audition. It seems to get bigger every year,” Dietsch said.

She credits the television show, “Glee,” with stirring up interest. “Students had never heard of glee clubs until the show came out,” she said. Though she claims the show simplifies the rehearsal process, “It does highlight the one thing that’s important — glee clubs and after-school performing ensembles can become a family,” Dietsch said.

With shows like “Glee” and “American Idol,” and feature films such as “Pitch Perfect,” (2012) and “Joyful Noise,” (2012), Shuster said singing has become “trendy.”

La Jolla High School choir teacher Brenda Henderson agreed. “I didn’t even know what (the show) ‘Glee’ was when it started,” she said. “But the kids were excited about the musical arrangements, and I did have a membership upswing, especially in my after-school jazz choir.”

Grepo said the glee club is accepted at LJCDS, and even “cool.”

“When we perform for the high school, I always get a ton of compliments afterward. It’s a great reception from everyone else in the school,” he said.

Bishop’s Shuster found the same acceptance. “It’s actually really nice, we have a student-run concert every year and kids put together their own quartets, duets, solos, and we always have an over-full house with people sitting in the stairwells,” she said.

Colin Garon, a Bishop’s senior in the barbershop quartet (who was recruited by a friend), attributes this to a change in attitude. “To be honest, I don’t think that negative reactions are actually that prevalent anymore, at least at Bishop’s,” he said. “Maybe in middle school there was some teasing, but for the most part, I think everyone is mature enough to appreciate singing. In fact, most of my friends and I have encountered almost entirely positive reactions to our singing.”

Of course, some very talented singers are entertaining audiences. While having a good voice is a great place to start, music directors agreed practice is just as important.

“Attending class and practice improves the talent they already have,” Henderson said. Carmon echoed, “It’s just like basketball

or anything else; you have to practice in order to get better.”

Shuster said, “It helps to have a natural understanding of tone, but there’s a way to learn that. There are those who will just never get it, but those people tend not to gravitate toward singing.”

For La Jolla High School junior Lindsay Crowe, the two hours of singing after school gives her the time to do what she loves.

“My favorite thing is to sing, I’ve been singing since I was little,” she said. “After school, we get more time to work on our voices (and make discoveries). There are versions of a song we’ve learned that, when I hear the original version, I don’t really like it, but when we sing it as a group, I like the sound much better.”

Choral Concerts:

■ La Jolla High School, 750 Nautilus St. • Dec. 18: Winter Concert, 6 p.m.

■ Bishop’s School, 7607 La Jolla Blvd. • Nov. 9: Benefit Concert, features student- chosen work, 7 p.m. • Dec. 14-15: Christmas Concert, 5 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday • April 2-5, 2014: Vocal jazz concert, 7 p.m.

■ La Jolla Country Day, 9490 Genesee Ave. • March 8: Performance at Universal Studios, Los Angeles • May 16: Show choir, 7 p.m.

— Keep an eye on La Jolla Light’s Community Calendar for more shows as they are scheduled.