Choir forms on South Whidbey to help girls find their voice

Whidbey Girls Choir students (from left) Audri Cooke

A handful of girls are getting a little help finding their voice on South Whidbey.

Thanks to the formation of the Whidbey Girls Choir in September, six young singers are learning to read music, project their voices and channel their inner divas.

“We’re learning everything,” said Artistic Director and teacher Jerry Mader, a career composer and director who now lives in Freeland.

He described the curriculum for the class, which started in September and lasts through June, as comprehensive and progressive. Asked if that meant the choir would cover everything from opera to Miley Cyrus, Mader said it depended on if he could find the right arrangement for “Party in the U.S.A.” or “Wrecking Ball.”

“I’m sure the girls would like to do that,” he said. “The trouble is so much of that is electronic.”

“This is human voices,” Mader, 71, added.

The girls choir sprang up from a need and a desire to have professional lessons for students. The choir is offered to students from fifth to 12th grade. Having lived in California and Washington and been a music teacher for almost 50 years, Mader said he witnessed the loss of music education.

“I’ve watched a lot of good music teachers fade because school districts just didn’t fund it anymore,” he said.

“I’m here because human beings lose what I think is a core element of their humanity when they don’t take part in the arts,” he added.

The South Whidbey School District has band and choir in its middle school and high school. Mader praised the quality of music education in South Whidbey schools and said he wants his program to help cement the South End’s identity as an arts mecca.

With four of the choir’s girls at a recent rehearsal, Mader led them through a quick warmup. First, to show their comprehension of reading sheet music, he has them clap in time with the measure. Without much correction to the on-point claps, he moved on to vocal warmups. Wielding his conducting baton, Mader looked like a magician instructing his apprentice wizards, like a scene from “Harry Potter.” Instead of hexes or fireworks, he conjures up a tune based on a scale: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. A few rounds of that and Mader announced the last one. In the middle of it, he drops out and the girls falter.

“Let’s do it again,” he said.

Repetition will create habit, and Mader demands and expects good habits when it comes to the girls choir.

They go through it again, this time flawlessly. One girl, thrilled with success, declares “Crushed it.”

Helping run the choir are piano accompanist Kathy Fox and volunteer administrator Danielle Klein. In an email while on vacation, Klein said the choir’s mission is to create musically literate and confident choral singers in a fun environment for girls fifth-12th grade who love music of all styles and origins.

Mader is accustomed to working with novice singers. He recalled a story of working with a first-time choir singer, teaching her pitch and in 18 months giving her a solo during a performance.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” he said.

His hope, along with others in the music education world, is to get young people interested and engaged in music. If they like it and find success, they are likely to stick with it into adulthood and continue a tradition almost as old as civilization in group singing.

“We don’t remember who played football for the Romans, but we damn well know who Cicero is,” Mader said.

The girls choir is working toward filling out its roster with some high school singers before organizing its first performance. Between now and then, the Whidbey Girls Choir administrators have planned a bake sale on Valentine’s Day to help pay for Mader’s and Fox’s time.