Every Monday of my life since eighth grade has ended the same way. Near downtown Los Altos, in a small church with paneled floors, wide windows and creaky doors, I meet with my choir for yoga, meditation and singing. To anyone else, this might seem strange, but I always accepted it as a norm that choirs meditate and that moving your body is simply a part of making music. But from attending rehearsals of different choirs and seeing them perform, I’ve realized other choirs aren’t like this. While other groups wear long robes and stand completely still when they sing, Cantabile Youth Singers, a group based in Los Altos, does the opposite. Wearing velvet pants and ballet flats, we are encouraged to move our bodies and involve every part of ourselves in the music. Cantabile provides the opportunity for children and youth from first to twelfth grade to participate in choral music education, and whether we’re singing eleventh century music in Latin or a bluesy song by Dolly Parton, we always strive to connect with and move to the music.
I first joined Cantabile eight years ago, but I started doing yoga and meditation with Cantabile in eighth grade. At my first rehearsal as a shy fourth grader, I was welcomed into a room of smiling faces to sing “All you need is Love” by The Beatles. As we sang together and interacted through handshakes and get-to-know-you songs, I made eye contact with a girl with black glasses and blond hair. She smiled at me and asked me to sit next to her during rehearsal. At that moment, I knew I wanted to stay a part of this welcoming group.
“As we sang together and interacted through handshakes and get-to-know-you songs, I made eye contact with a girl with black glasses and blond hair. She smiled at me and asked me to sit next to her during rehearsal. At that moment, I knew I wanted to stay a part of this welcoming group.”
Since then, I joined different groups within Cantabile and became close friends with the girl I met on my very first day. Currently I’m a part of Aria, an all girls a capella group, and Vocalise, an SSA (soprano, soprano, alto) choir where we sing a wide range of music including pieces in Latin and Russian as well as classic folk songs. Throughout my time in Cantabile, I’ve not only been able to express my love for singing, but I’ve also become a part of a community of people who are just as passionate about music as I am.
However, choir comes with its difficulties. Singing is more interactive than other kinds of music: there’s no instrument to hide our facial expressions and, because we perform all of our music memorized, there’s nothing standing between us and the audience. We sing such a wide variety of music that at times it can be hard to connect with the pieces we sing. Our conductors push us to learn the meaning behind the words of the piece — especially if we’re singing in a foreign language — and to find a personal connection with the story the piece is telling. For example, in Aria this year we’re singing a cheerful winter carol in Latvian. Due to the difficulty of the text, we spent hours during rehearsals learning correct pronunciations and the story behind the piece. This deeper understanding allows us to have facial expressions that accurately convey the story to an American audience.
Throughout my time at Cantabile, we’ve performed at many prestigious places including Carnegie Hall and Notre Dame Cathedral, but I’ve found the most rewarding performances are smaller scale and actually depend on the audience. An audience can make a profound difference on how well a singer performs: if I feel nervous or unenthusiastic going into a performance, an engaging and supportive audience can make me feel welcomed and have more fun while performing. I experienced this firsthand during a performance with Cantabile last year at an assisted living facility in Los Altos. It was Christmas time and we visited to perform at their Christmas party, singing classic holiday songs such as this arrangement by Mac Huff of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” It may not sound like much, but the residents’ friendly faces as they smiled, sang and laughed along with us made the experience more rewarding than performing in a grand theatre or cathedral because we knew that our singing brought more happiness into their lives.
Cantabile has helped me grow into a more confident person and allowed me to celebrate my love of singing, but even if someone has never sung a note in their life, listening to music can make their life better by giving them a positive experience they’ll remember. Whether it’s a small-scale performance in Los Altos or singing in a large cathedral in Paris, Cantabile Youth Singers aims to bring joy to the lives of of every audience member worldwide.