North Coast Singers soldiers carry on despite challenges
San Diego North Coast Singers have been a musical mainstay in North County for 29 years.
Hundreds of local youth have participated in the Encinitas-based organization’s choirs, which are open to second- through twelfth-grade students from across the region.
Like nearly all cultural enterprises, the group has taken a hit since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in early 2020. Attendance has more than halved from the pre-pandemic level of over 100 members.
Supported largely by charity, the group’s financial resources have dwindled, potentially jeopardizing its survival for the foreseeable future.
“It has changed quite a bit, but we have managed to stay open thanks to many families in the community and philanthropists in the community who believe in the value of the arts for children,” said artistic director Melissa Trevino Keylock.
“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be open right now. There are choirs across the country that have closed during Covid and we are very grateful that we had enough supporters to keep our doors open.
This year will be the third straight year the nonprofit has had to dip into its savings, said the Fallbrook resident, who took the job in 2019 when founder Sally Husch Dean retired.
“We had to eat off the little nest egg,” Keylock said. “It won’t last forever. We are therefore definitely looking for people who want to continue supporting the choir in this area so that we can reach 30 years.
“I think at this rate we could go another year before we have to shut down if we don’t get some normality back to the world or get some serious funding.”
Yet the association has managed to endure despite setbacks.
After a hiatus from March to May 2020 during a countywide lockdown, rehearsals have resumed outdoors in the church parking lot. The number of choirs has been reduced from four to three. Rehearsals for primary school students have been reduced from three per week to two.
“We met outside in masks,” Keylock said. “We really sang in front of the church security lights. We were able to meet safely outside and give the kids a place where they could meet other kids in person. We had many children who participated via Zoom.
“We were able to meet the needs of all of our families by providing multiple options for the children to have a safe after school choir experience.”
Prior to the pandemic, Keylock said the group’s choirs regularly scheduled performances with local orchestras and went on tour to sing with children from other communities. The choirs have even traveled as far as Cuba to perform.
These activities have been discontinued for the past two years.
However, North Coast Singers will host the San Diego Children’s Choir for a joint session in April.
“We felt it was important for the kids when our numbers are so small to have the experience of singing in a large group,” Keylock said. “We’re going to take our little choir and the San Diego Children’s Chorus little choirs and combine them so they feel like they’re doing a combined performance and being able to sing with more kids, but without the obvious travel issues. “
In addition, registrations began to pick up momentum. Membership, which typically consists of more than 100 children, has grown to 56 from 43 at the start of the pandemic.
Now, as seen recently at church, students were rehearsing while singing through masks. They were conducted by Keylock with the accompaniment of pianist Anna Juliar.
The renewed interest is due in large part to the persistence of Keylock, with the support of the board of directors. A career choir professional, Keylock left a choir conducting position in Princeton, New Jersey, to live in that area with her husband, who took a job here.
When the North Coast Singers board axed his administrative position to save money, Keylock agreed to take over those duties without additional pay.
“That’s how much I believe in this program,” she said. “For people who drive an hour and a half to keep their kids in this program, that’s why I do it.”
The choir provides a cultural and social experience for children, as well as opportunities for students who might not be comfortable in other extracurricular activities such as sports or visual arts.
“Children learn music from all eras, from different countries,” Keylock said. “We like to sing in different languages. They sing in at least two languages every semester. That’s really the goal of choral music and choirs, not just to learn a type of music and not just the Western musical tradition, but to learn music from other cultures around the world.
“As children grow, it helps them understand themselves better when they understand the big picture of what’s out there in the rest of the world. It teaches them about people who are different from them. themselves.
“Right now, when kids can’t travel and meet kids from other parts of the world, it’s a way to learn about other cultures, other time periods, etc.”
In this time when families are dealing with so many difficult issues, the program focuses on positive-toned songs, including some that Keylock composed herself.
“It’s very important to be a positive and safe after-school experience where kids can continue to engage and socialize with other kids,” she said. “It is really important that our program remains open. It is a place where they build their confidence, skills and self-esteem.
Those values were on display recently when she and Juliar led the youngest choir through their first session of the new semester, singing Keylock’s song “The Turtle and the Flamingo.”
They were followed by their older primary counterparts. The students who are in colleges and high schools were to meet a few days later under the direction of Michelle Risling.
Eleven-year-old Liam, a member of the band in grades four to six, said his mother signed him up for North Coast Singers.
“I was probably the most talented singer in my own school,” he said. “My mom thought I was destined to sing. So she put me in this choir and I really like it. It helped my confidence.
Mercy, 9, said she was motivated to join so she could develop enough musically to participate in the family band started by her father.
“He said I should join a choir to get my voice louder,” she said.
A one-day camp organized by North Coast Singers and funded by a grant from the city of Encinitas inspired McKenna to join.
“I did the camp and it was just amazing,” said the 10-year-old. “It made me want to learn more and more songs.”
Ten-year-old Alex entered the program at the age of seven at the insistence of his mother, coach Juliar. Now he is a trainee in which he performs various tasks, such as giving out badges and writing music.
“When I saw the people here they were very friendly,” he said. “It was fun. There are new kids joining every year. It’s a really cool band. I love it. I love listening to music.”
Her mother said she attended church in Encinitas and accompanied the women’s choir when Dean asked her if she would like to work with North Coast Singers. Juliar started doing this several years before Keylock arrived.
“They are a very professional group, but their approach is also kind and generous,” she said. “Everyone I work with loves children.”
The Carlsbad resident said that she herself likes to accompany young singers.
“Nothing compares to the voices of children. They are so beautiful. They are very special, even without training.
For more information on San Diego North Coast Singers, visit northcoastsingers.com.