In a brightly lit studio off of Front Street in Bonner Springs, young singers congregate. Some scurry in with a few minutes to spare before rehearsal while others wait and do homework. Whichever student, all are welcome at the Allegro KC space. More than 220 students from third grade through high school populate five choirs and the program is getting ready to expand to a chamber orchestra and summer camps.
Founder and Artistic Director Christy Elsner started a small choir of 38 voices in 2000 and just last fall, she and her ever-growing artistic staff and students moved into a dedicated space in Bonner Springs, Kan. Don’t worry about the drive or location. Students and parents from all over the metropolitan area find Elsner and the other directors. Students come from Kansas City-North to Olathe and many are homeschooled as well as students at private and public elementary, middle and high schools.
“The opportunity to work on power and strength of the voice draws students here,” Elsner says. “Growing up provides challenges and a different dynamic is found here. We have fabulous challenges with treble voices. The variety of music also appeals to the singers. We do everything from Baroque to contemporary music. It’s not uncommon for singers to sing in at least four to five languages.”
Elsner wanted her own choirs, her own space and her freedom to unite these even while student teaching. Her next goal, to unite students singing with an orchestra, will be fulfilled with the creation of a chamber orchestra. And now she also has introduced an all-male choir for changed voices that joins the rich women’s choirs. “Success for me continues when I get to pull these voices together and strive for excellence in everything we do,” she says. “We encourage the singers to take this idea with them in all things. Every choice can be excellent from the decision to make their beds in the morning to how they study for school.” Elsner directs Allegro con Brio and Allegro con Moto choirs.
Allegro offers numerous community concerts each season as well as four major concert performances. Allegro singers have performed in Canterbury Cathedral, England; St.Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City; Meyerson Symphony Hall in Dallas; Carnegie Hall in NYC and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City. They even had the chance to perform at the White House last late fall. The group’s spring show returns to the Kauffman Center April 14.
Composer-in-Residence Andrea Ramsey works with Elsner and creates annual themes. This year, Woven Together, looks at folk music and spirituals. The five choirs sing separately, but also join forces for several songs. “We aim for overall character development. The students who participate with us have an understanding about the commitment they make. If they don’t practice, it impacts their neighbors. They also learn poise and grace. It’s also about how to stand and how to shake a hand. The Midwestern values we possess are crucial. They will carry these values into their adult lives.”
The students also participate in community service hours. The HALO Foundation has benefited from various drives by Allegro KC. HALO provides food, water, shelter, clothing, education, art therapy, caretakers, medical services, and vocational training to orphans and at-risk children worldwide. HALO has recently opened learning centers for at-risk, homeless, and foster care youth in Kansas City and Denver. Parents also perform service hours too.
Poco choir director Briana Swift works with students from second grade to fourth grade. She is also an alumna of Allegro, having sung with Moto and Brio from the eighth grade through her senior year in high school. Swift is currently a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, studying music education. “Not many choirs are like Allegro,” she says. “There’s something so great about teaching kids three French songs while talking about the importance of showing up and studying their music. I am helping to create the foundation.”
Like Swift, Maia Schoenberg, 17, a Blue Valley High School junior, has sung in Moto and is now in Brio. “This is my fifth year. It’s beyond the singing; the atmosphere is like family. Allegro is good company. I want to be an opera singer so I like to be exposed to as much music as I can. Musical theater also appeals to me.”
The White House trip in December sticks with Schoenberg. “We were able to go based on seniority. The DC singers are staying together and rehearsing as well.” She hopes to attend the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
Catie Tucker is a senior at Staley High School in Kansas City-North. “I have been a part of Allegro since eighth grade too. The level of beauty and professionalism we can achieve keeps me coming back each year. I participate in the choirs at school too, but I learned years ago about responsibility and dedication. It’s more work than you expect, but when you get to sing a world premiere, it’s a beautiful moment for all of us.”
Auditions for the 2013-2014 concert season will be held in mid-April for the choirs. Allegro con Fuoco (lively with fire), new high school string orchestra for grades 9-12, will hold auditions April 29 and 30. The openings include violin, viola, cello, bass and keyboard. There are also plans to hopefully create summer camps as well. For details, visit www.allegrokc.org.