Why communal music-making is so powerful

By: Brent Wells

I recently enjoyed a few days in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at a convention of choral directors. Attending these types of events presents a wonderful opportunity to hear the excellent work that colleagues from around the country are doing, and provides a forum to discuss how, and more importantly, why we do what we do.

Why is communal music-making so powerful? What impact does our selection of repertoire have on our singers and audiences? How can we properly communicate inspired texts? All directors ask themselves these questions, but for the five MCO conductors, these questions take on an even deeper meaning, as we share a collective vision to inspire and transform those who participate in our concerts, either as performers or audience members.

Fountain Valley High School

As I pondered the answers to these questions, I reflected on the start of my own choral journey, which began when I walked into the choir room at Fountain Valley High School, California at the start of my junior year. Friends had encouraged me to try choir on for size, and with no expectations, I decided to give it a shot. By the third week of class, it was my new passion. Not only did I love singing in choir, but I had decided it would be my future career.

What about this experience could have such transformative power? And in such a short time! For me the answer was the shared process of musical creation, which allowed a disparate group of people to come together with a common goal and transform their individual efforts into a living collective artistic creation. The ownership of that process, the challenge for excellence, the support of fellow musicians—united in a shared vision—all contribute to something powerful. This “something” satisfies our needs on a social, musical, and even spiritual level.

Conductor Brent Wells

For those of us who have been in many choirs or orchestras, we know that not every ensemble experience is of equal quality. What really makes it work? For me in my high school choral experience, it was the incomparable master teacher and conductor Ted Reid, the excellent repertoire he selected, and the positive culture he fostered. Similarly, the MCO conducting team shares a commitment to create an equally vibrant environment and program repertoire that inspires and ennobles, comforts and reassures, and leads us to praise and rejoicing.

This desire to change our communities and participants through these ideals led to the motto “All ages, all faiths, one voice.” From the kindergartener to the retiree, whether they participate in MCO individually or with their entire family, regardless of faith tradition, the goal for all involved is the same—to be transformed and lifted to a higher place.

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I Have No Country. I Am Not Congolese. I Am Not Rwandan.

Brett Stewart shares his experience with refugee children in MCO

One of the most humbling aspects of my job is seeing firsthand the life-altering impacts that MCO has on the lives of its participants and audience. I am currently having an experience that surpasses them all.

This summer an MCO mother in Dallas brought to my attention a community of refugees from Africa that were assimilating to their new home in America. One of the families had escaped the Congo to a refugee camp in Rwanda where they spent eighteen years on a waiting list to come to America. Conditions in the camp were abominable, and they had witnessed genocide and other atrocities their entire lives — literal carnage and gruesome murder in front of their eyes, even the children.

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The MCO mother became aware that there was one teenage boy among the refugees who loves music and was teaching himself how to play keyboard, and she initiated a carpool of parents to pick him and his siblings up each week so that they could participate in MCO.

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After seeing these refugee children in rehearsals for a couple of weeks, I had the opportunity to help deliver clothing to their families at a humble apartment complex in Dallas. I was able to speak to this boy at length and hear of the atrocities he has witnessed.

He lamented, “I have no country. I am not Congolese. I am not Rwandan.” I looked him in the eyes and said, “But you are in America now, and you will be American!” Through his big, beautiful smile he said, with his thick African accent, “YES! And I LOVE America. Here I have good dreams.”

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It has changed my life to see this African refugee boy and his siblings sitting among a sea of American youth who have EVERYTHING in comparison. But then I am reminded that we are all refugees in one way or another. All feel lost and displaced with over-bearing burdens at one time or another. All are entrenched in the atrocities of this world, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. All need a safe place to feel the Spirit bear witness to them that the Gospel is real, it is true, and it is there for them. MCO is one such place, and it is powerful because sacred music has an indelible way of changing our hearts and drawing us nearer to the Lord than perhaps any other thing.

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For this family of Congolese emigrants, MCO is a place of refuge that will be a healing balm after a lifetime of horror, hunger, and heartache. And while most stories may not be so compelling, MCO is just as much a refuge for us all.

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Youth Conductors – Nancy

Nancy Prater
Nancy Prater
Dallas

Nancy Prater and her husband, Michael, are the parents of four children. She is currently the Youth Choirs Conductor’s Assistant for the Dallas Millennial™ Choirs & Orchestra (DMCO), with whom she has been singing soprano since its start in 2013. She maintains a private voice studio, performs regularly as a soprano, and has been directing various church and community choirs for over ten years.

Mrs. Prater graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University, earning her Bachelor of Music degree in Choral Music Education. During her time at BYU she studied voice under Jennifer Welch-Babidge, Ruth Christensen, and J. Arden Hopkin, and performed in several operas and scenes under the direction of Lawrence Vincent. She also gained experience performing with BYU’s renowned choirs, in recital and oratorio performances, and student teaching at Orem High School with Sterling Keyes. Prior to college she was privileged to study voice with Laura Stevenson, and sing and play trumpet with the award-winning musical ensembles of Birdville High School—in choirs directed by Robert Stovall and Peggy Graff and bands directed by Brian Gibbs, Joe Nuñez, and Paul Heuer. Nancy’s mentors include Paul Broomhead, Rob Dunn, Jean Applonie, Brett Stewart and Joni Jensen.

Youth Conductors – Amy

Amy Mascio
Amy Mascio
California

Soprano Amy Mascio and her husband, Bobby, are the parents of three boys. She has sung with the Orange County Millennial™ Choirs & Orchestra (OCMCO) since its inaugural concert in 2007. After a brief hiatus to complete her education, she returned to OCMCO in 2010.

Amy received her Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from California State University, Fullerton where she graduated with both vocal and opera area honors. While at Fullerton she studied opera performance with Janet Smith (and currently continues her studies with her); coached with Mark Salters; and performed extensively in all CSUF operatic productions. She received her Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Brigham Young University, Idaho where she studied voice with Eda Ashby and Kristine Ciesinski. Prior to college Amy participated in the award-winning Fountain Valley High School choral program under the direction of Ted Reid. In addition to her degrees she studied with The Opera Theatre and Music Festival of Lucca, Italy through the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Amy is currently in her ninth season as a soprano with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and often performs as a guest artist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. Her professional recordings include The Verdi Requiem on Deutsch Grammaphon, Górecki: Miserere on Decca, and the newly Released Los Angeles Master Choral: Festival of Carols, recorded live at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Amy has worked with notable conductors in the United States and Europe, including Grant Gershon, Esa Pekka Salonen, Lionel Bringuier, Charles Dutoit, Mack Wilberg, Gianfranco Cosmi, and Gustavo Dudamel.

Youth Conductors – Hillary

Hillary Haynie
Hillary Haynie
Arizona

Hillary Haynie and her husband, Josh, are the parents of two children. She is currently the Youth Choirs Conductor’s Assistant for the East Valley Millennial™ Choirs & Orchestras in Arizona. Hillary has been singing soprano in the MCO Grand Chorus since 2007, MCO’s inaugural year.

Hillary earned her Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance at Brigham Young University. During her time at BYU she studied voice and choral music with many esteemed professors and conductors. Nearing the end of her college career she began a private vocal studio and continues to teach private voice today.

Hillary enjoys learning new and valuable things from the immeasurable conductors of MCO. She is also thrilled to have the opportunity to spend time with the youth of MCO. Seeing thousands of youth progress towards perfection in both vocal technique and spiritual maturity is incredibly rewarding and something Hillary is proud to be a part of.

Hillary’s mentors include Clayne Robison, Diane Reich, Darrell Babidge, Lawrence Vincent, Rosalind Hall, Brett Stewart, Brandon Stewart, and Ted Reid.

Youth Conductors – Cindy

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Cynthia Wells
Idaho

Cynthia Wells and her husband, Brent, are the parents of three children. She is an active studio teacher and accompanist in the Treasure Valley area, most recently working as adjunct faculty at the College of Idaho and accompanist for Sage Valley Middle School. She also serves as the Certificate of Achievement chair for the Treasure Valley Music Teacher’s Association.

Mrs. Wells graduated from Brigham Young University, earning a double degree in Piano and Organ Performance and Pedagogy, and a Master’s Degree in Organ Performance. Her teachers include Teresa deJong-Pombo, Dr. Robin Hancock, Marlene Bachelder, and Dr. Don Cook. Additionally, she studied voice privately under Dr. J. Arden Hopkin, and has performed in opera, oratorio, and recital. Her singing has earned her membership in many highly regarded ensembles, performing under the direction of Ted Reid, Dr. Mack Wilberg, Dr. Ronald Staheli, and Rosalind Hall.

Youth Conductors – Emily

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Emily Ball
Utah

Emily Ball and her husband Brad are the parents of four children. Emily is currently the Youth Choirs Conductor’s Assistant for Utah Millennial™ Choirs & Orchestras (UMCO). She began her association with MCO as a vocalist in the Grand Chorus where she has participated for several years.

As a music student at Chapman University Emily sang under the direction of the renowned director/composer Dr. William Hall. She received her Bachelor in Vocal Studies degree from Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Following graduation she became the Vocal Coach for the award-winning Fountain Valley High School choral program under the direction of Brett Stewart. During this time Emily created the curriculum and programs for hundreds of students in the after school group voice classes. She then went on to teach choir at The Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Because family is very important to Emily she decided to take a break from working full-time to have more children. However, she still kept her association with Waterford part-time as a sectional coach and teaching private voice lessons. At various times since then she had a voice studio both in California and Utah.

Emily would like to thank her mentors William Hall, Christina Dahlin, Vicki Gorman, Ted Reid, Merrilee Webb, and James Smith. She is thrilled to be back in the music world and working with the youth of UMCO.

Cory Davis, Arizona

MCO establishes an expectation for excellence and lovingly but unabashedly demands it from every participant in every rehearsal and in every performance. Most people in our hypersensitive and politically correct society, especially kids, have never experienced that. Many might shy away from or even fear it. Many, unfortunately, embrace mediocrity. What I have seen in my own and many other children is that they not only respond to a high expectation, but they understand it, appreciate it, and strive for it when it is the loving expectation given to them. Continue reading

Sherry Kettley, California

I have formed wonderful friendships, have increased my music skills immensely, and love the total experience of being part of something so inspiring and uplifting and definitely bigger than all of us. I am inspired by the directors’ unparalleled competence, which makes singing in the Grand Chorus such a wonderful experience. I have never worked so hard perfecting my musical and memorization skills, and when I finally do it, I love the sense of accomplishment. Continue reading

Nancy Prater, Texas

As a professional singer, I could choose to be a part of any number of choirs and ensembles, but I chose MCO because I love that I can both sing with my children and be part of a professional-quality organization. MCO strengthens families and communities, bringing them closer together and closer to God through glorious music. I love that we perform the music of the masters, patriotic anthems, and hymns that testify of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Every rehearsal I am strengthened with my family, and we are united by song. I love it!