The cafeteria at Rocky Mountain Care – Willow Springs in Tooele was still full at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 13. Many of the residents chatted around tables, and some lifted their heads to watch the wide hall in front.
Children were arriving.
All were dressed in either black pants or skirts. The boys wore white shirts with red or pink ties. Girls wore red or pink shirts in celebration of Valentine’s Day.
“They’re so cute,” one resident said. “I wish I was that young again.”
By 5:40 p.m., most of the Rising Voices Children’s Choir participants clustered in the hall. Under the direction of Lake Point’s Katelynd Blake, they came to bring the gift of young voices and beautiful music to the residents.
“My heart just went out to them,” Blake said of the residents in a previous interview. “I know there are all kinds of people that are at that care facility, and some may be without family on Valentine’s Day. It’s a day when you should be feeling loved by people.”
Blake started Rising Voices Children’s Choir last year. This was the first time that Rising Voices performed at the care facility. Blake said the group performed a Christmas concert and will be presenting a spring concert, so it will sing in an outreach to the community each semester.
Like the Valentine’s Day concert.
By 5:45 p.m., the choir was warming up at the end of the hall. Residents gathered in two rows. Members of the children’s families sat on benches at the side or stood at the back of the hall.
Blake said Rising Voices is for boys and girls ages 7-14. Students audition for it, they work hard for their performances, and they enjoy a variety of learning as they study music.
And Blake enjoys teaching it.
“I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to do this,” she said. “It’s something I wanted to offer in Tooele County so parents don’t have to go to Salt Lake. As we’re growing out here, we should have something like this.”
Currently, there are 20 students in the choir, and 16 of them came to sing at the Valentine’s Day concert.
At 6 p.m., the concert began.
“We hope that it brings you a lot of cheer,” Blake said as she introduced the first song — “Loch Lomond.” Across the room, a resident lifted her chin and smiled. When the children sang “A Bushel and a Peck,” two residents sitting at the back of the hall sang along.
Blake said the choir sounds good because the children work hard.
At auditions, Blake evaluates students on their ability to stay on pitch and in the same key throughout the song. Then she guides them through simple vocal exercises to check their range and musical ear. She also does a quick test to see if they know about musical notation and note values.
“If they don’t, that’s OK,” she said. “We learn that in choir.”
Blake holds auditions in April. If students don’t make the auditions for the upcoming year, she recommends them to other voice teachers and encourages them to try again later.
“We’re working on some really difficult pieces, and I really push these kids,” she said. “They meet me where they need to be … They have to be ready and willing to work hard. We kind of jump in and work on a lot of difficult things.”
The third song the children performed was “Love Is a Song.” The children bobbed their heads and swayed a little. Their hands stayed at their sides.
“I think it’s really important for kids to be able to present themselves,” Blake said. “All kids are going to have to get up and give a presentation at some time in their life, or have an interview or a conversation. Those are also skills that we work on during choir.”
Since the choir sings in two-part harmony, the students are divided into two rehearsal groups. Blake makes the class fun with musical games and lighthearted songs. After warming up with vocal breathing exercises and scales, she teaches musical concepts like note values, rhythm and basic vocal harmonization.
“Then we take those skills that we learn there and transfer it into the music we sing,” she said.
Blake set the minimum age for Rising Voices at 7 years old.
“It’s good for them to be able to read,” she said. “I really push them, and they’re amazing. We work on really difficult music and musical literature, and so it’s really important that they can read so they can follow along and keep up.”
During the school year, rehearsals are held on Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m. at Blake’s basement studio. While the groups usually practice their parts separately, sometimes Blake holds a combined practice.
“Everything that we do in each rehearsal group is the same,” she said. “They work on all of the same materials, except that they’re just learning a different part.”
And the children have fun.
“I just love to sing,” said 9-year-old Megan Allen. “I love to sing my heart out.”
“I like, actually, learning songs that my mom knows,” said Megan’s sister, 12-year-old Kayli. “She sings in the house and I sing along with her.”
And the thing that 11-year-old Samuel Barson likes about the choir?
“Singing,” he said. “Singing and having fun.”
It’s what Blake enjoys, too. In the middle of the concert, she performed a solo of her own for the residents.
“Really, music is my life,” she said.
Blake has a bachelor of musical arts degree in vocal performance from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She also studied several languages. After graduating, she taught basic musicianship at the college as well as private and group voice lessons.
“I still study voice on my own,” she said. “I study with a teacher in Salt Lake, and that helps me become a better teacher and continue working on my skills.”
Her language studies carry over into Rising Voices, too. In rehearsals, Blake teaches basic grammar and diction of songs in other languages so the students can understand what they’re singing.
“Then, when you’re communicating that, when you’re singing, you know what you’re saying,” she said. “When you know what you’re communicating, you can let that come out in your performance.”
She also delves into the history of the music and uses the songs to help students learn compassion, empathy, focus, self-discipline and some aspects of math.
“That’s one of the reasons I really love music,” she said. “Music is an avenue to learning so many things. As you look at music research, kids who study music do better in all areas of study.”
After Blake’s solo at the Valentine’s Day concert, the children sang “L.O.V.E.”
The two-part harmony came out strong when the children sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” More residents sang along.
“That little choir is kind of cute,” a resident said. “They do a pretty good job, too.”
Besides the choir, Blake teaches private voice lessons. Several of her private students have been Sterling Scholars, have performed well at solo and ensemble competitions, and have been leads in musicals at Stansbury High School. One of her students passed the auditions for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
For Blake, these kinds of experiences are normal. As a child, she studied music privately and participated in a group similar to Rising Voices. During her teenage years, she started and taught a children’s performing arts group of her own.
“I loved being part of a children’s performing arts group growing up,” she said. “It was something that really inspired me to keep studying music all through high school and into college, and then doing this as a career.”
Blake said all of her brothers and sisters are musical. She remembers performing with them at nursing homes as a child. It became a Christmas tradition to perform there as a family.
That’s how she got the idea for the Valentine’s Day concert.
“I was thinking that one thing I want to do with the choir is get more involved with the community and even do service projects,” she said, “So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to do a Valentine’s performance? I think it’s good for these kids to get out there and do this.”
The Valentine’s Day concert was enjoyable for both Blake and her students.
But even more, the residents loved it.
“Those little people put their whole hearts into that,” one resident said.
Following the concert, the choir children passed out hearts made from candy canes.
Another voice rose from the crowd.
“Thank you. Thank you very much. That was beautiful.”