Today is the last practice soon-to-be Kenai Central High School freshmen Candice Bowers and Nya Dukowitz have to perfect their pitch before heading to the Let Freedom Sing Girlchoir National Convention this weekend in Pennsylvania.
The students will represent the Kenai Peninsula and all of Alaska along with 98 other female high school choristers, two tapped from each of the 50 U.S. states.
“I hedged my bets that Philadelphia would be a unique place to celebrate and encourage female empowerment in the arts,” said Steve Fisher, founder and artistic director for the event, in a June 2 press release. “As a founder of an organization that aims to transform the lives of young people through the power of making music together, I’m keenly aware of the how choral music empowers young women in a unique way when they have the opportunity to make it surrounded by other girls, helping them to develop into strong, confident women who are at the ready to — literally — let their voices be heard.”
Fisher serendipitously met Kenai Middle School music teacher Rosemary Bird while she was in Seattle with five of her students who made it into the 2016 North West American Choral Directors Association Middle School Honor Choir in March and let her know he was still looking for two girls from Alaska to join the group in Philadelphia. Bowers was one of five local students who made it into the choir this year and happened to overhear the conversation.
“I was jumping, I was so excited,” she said.
Bowers said she knew Bird would ask herself, an alto, and Dukowitz, a soprano, if they wanted to pick up the tempo and head to the East Coast for an intensive, five-day singing lesson. Both girls are leaders in their sections have shown superior responsibility and effectively communicate and learn on the spot, Bird said.
Since they made the commitment, Bird, Bowers and Dukowitz have met at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church on Spruce Street in Kenai three days each week for two hours per practice for the past five weeks to prepare nearly one dozen pieces of music they are expected to have mastered before even arriving in Philadelphia.
“Whenever they sing, they are developing the instrument,” Bird said. “A singer is the instrument and the singer.”
The music spans the gamut, from the “Star Spangled Banner” to the opera excerpt “O Pastorelle, addio!” written by Umberto Giordano, and even the modern pop song “Brave” by Sara Bareilles.
“I can’t emphasize how important it is for a student participating in an event like this to come prepared,” Bird said. “Just imagine how it would be if another girl showed up unprepared.”
Bowers said she is already singing louder and taking more breaths between phrases.
“Besides range, breathing also helps with phrasing,” Bird said. “If you can find a singer who can sing in phrases and sing in tune, that’s all it takes.”
Bowers and Dukowitz will most likely be the youngest in the choir, having not technically attended the high school they are representing yet, which has caused some stage fright.
“Most of the other girls’ voices be stronger than ours, they have been in that atmosphere before,” Dukowitz said. “I am excited to learn from them and it will make me better as a singer and vocalist.”
Participants and their parents will be staying in the dorms at Arcadia University, which resembles “a giant castle,” Dukowitz said.
“I can’t even explain it,” Dukowitz said, recalling how she felt when Bird asked her to go.
Bird said it might be a stretch to say it was the “first time she sent a text during class,” but by the end of the period, Dukowitz’s mother gave the green light to go, and agreed to take the trek as well. Bowers’ mother Helen will also be joining the trio.
The Girlchoir will hit nearly one dozen stops, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House and Boat House Row to perform for expectant and some unsuspecting audiences. Bowers said there is some talk that shows make even take place at the Democratic National Convention, which overlaps the Let Freedom Sing festival by no accident, Fisher said in the press release.
“Stay tuned for the next exciting adventure of ‘The Girls Go to Philadelphia,’” said Bird with slight exasperation.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.