With a flutter of his baton, Jerry Mader signals to his pupils that the time has come to belt it out. The girls in his choir open their mouths in unison and begin singing a complex layered melody with every girl seemingly nailing their notes on the dime. Beautiful sounds fill the room, but after 30 seconds his arms and baton drop. His groans break up the unified voices.
“Your B was flat,” he says.
Like many instructors, Mader is tough to impress. He, his five pupils and accompanist Kathy Fox make up the Whidbey Girls Choir, a non-profit organization founded last spring. The choir will perform its official debut at 7:30 p.m. June 10 in the Fireside Room at the Langley United Methodist Church. It has previously performed alongside the Langley United Methodist Church choir at two church events at the same location, but this is their first full debut performance, Mader said.
The choir will sing a variety of styles, including some Beatles songs, American folk songs, an avant garde number and work from contemporary composers.
Joining the quintet on the show bill will be Langley violin prodigy Marley Erickson, 12, who competed at the Menuhin Competition in London, one of the world’s most prestigious violin competitions. She will perform three solo pieces separate from the choir numbers.
Erickson coincidentally used to be a member of the choir before her violin studies demanded her full attention and time.
Although Mader is tough on the girls, chuckles and smiles often follow the conductor’s frequent interuptions. It’s all in good fun, as long as Mader hears their voices progressing.
“I’m into teaching kids excellence rather than being satisfied with participation,” Mader said. “It teaches kids that they can achieve greatness. It’s possible to get there.”
The Whidbey Girls Choir began rehearsing last fall when Choir Coordinator Danielle Klein and another parent posted an ad online looking for a choir director after growing frustrated with having to take their daughters to Seattle for rehearsal. There was no children’s choir on the island at the time. Mader responded, and with his 40 years of experience as a professional classical musician, composer and teacher and seven years as director of the Kirkland Choral Society, he secured the position.
“Jerry was the most qualified and experienced by a good distance,” Klein said. “He has very high expectations for quality sound and wants the girls to challenge themselves and not give up.”
The choir is a program under the tutelage of the Whidbey Island Arts Council, which provides services to arts organizations that don’t have the ability to qualify as an independent and separate organization, according to Kay Parsons, vice president of the council. The organization does all of their umbrella organizations’ bookkeeping, applies for grants and advertises their events.
“We try to expand their ability to function within the community,” Parsons said. “Music and the arts can provide the kind of discipline and basic core strength that will help them grow into strong young women, so it’s important to have a girls choir on the Island.”
Eventually, Mader would like to see the choir performances become more than the sum of its parts. He foresees more of what this upcoming show is offering — a bill with multiple young performers such as Marley Erickson.
“There is a lot of young talent on the South End that just needs a platform to perform and showcase their talents,” Mader said.
Engagement in the arts is crucial for youth development on many levels, according to Mader, Klein and Parsons. Mastering a craft such as choral singing naturally spreads to skills in other subjects and encourages youth to be more comfortable with themselves, according to Mader.
“The more someone excels at the arts, the more they try, the more their self-esteem builds,” Mader said. “When they go out to perform, it’s not just a show, but they’ve achieved the confidence to perform. It translates to other life skills.”