Pilgrim Academy

Pilgrim Academy music teacher Becky Peterson stands with seven students who will travel to Oklahoma City in March to sing at the Organization of American Kodály Educators national choir festival: Chloe Dye, Grace Chim, Ruby Woma, David Foss, Zyla-Rae Smith, Audra Foss and Elise Fitzpatrick.

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Hundreds of the best young singers in North America will join in a choral festival in Oklahoma City — and seven of them will be coming from Pilgrim Academy in Egg Harbor City.

The vocalists are the cream of the crop from public and private schools in Canada and the United States, said Becky Peterson, elementary music teacher at the academy. The festival is an annual presentation by the Organization of American Kodály Educators, named for music educator Zoltán Kodály and his teaching method.

“The kids will spend a long weekend in Oklahoma City,” Peterson said. “They’ll have three days of rehearsals, with a concert on the last night.”

According to the website, the OAKE National Conference March 22-25 is a chance for the academy students to take part in one of four choirs led by internationally known conductors. The children will be joined by hundreds of other singers, and their performances will be polished by the conductors until the voices blend into an amazing sound, Peterson said.

“We’re all sending our best students,” she said.

Peterson, like music instructors across the country, auditioned her students for a part in the choirs. Each young vocalist had to prove that he or she could sing the musical scales, "America the Beautiful," and a two-part harmony.

The performances were sent digitally to OAKE for final selections.

Eight of Peterson’s students qualified, though just seven were able to take three days out of school to make the trip to Oklahoma: Chloe Dye, 10; Grace Chim, 10; Ruby Woma, 11; David Foss, 11; Zyla-Rae Smith, 11; Audra Foss, 14; and Elise Fitzpatrick, 14.

Fitzpatrick, who made the cut to attend last year’s festival in Philadelphia, gave her fellow students an idea of what to expect at this year’s event.

“In Philly, it was a rush,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was crazy at first. I was in a room with a ton of amazing singers.”

Fitzpatrick said she was sick for that performance and didn’t feel she did her best.

“Everyone sounded better than I did,” she said.

Foss said the first two days of rehearsal are intense.

“They’re like school days,” she said. “We start at 8:30 a.m., then at noon we get an hour for lunch, then we sing until 3:30 or 4 p.m.”

On the third day, the children will have a half-day of practice and then a half-day to explore Oklahoma City.

“We just have to be back in time for the concert,” Foss said.

Peterson said that even with the concert more than a month away, her students are already hard at work preparing for the concert.

“They received their music through the mail, and now they can go online to listen to how it’s sung,” she said.

Chorals are typically sacred music, Peterson said, though not necessarily Christian. This year her students will perform choral music from Cuba, Japan, Hungry and Malaysia.

Foss and Fitzpatrick, both anime fans, said they knew a smattering of Japanese and might be able to pick the words up a little quicker.

Woma, a fan of Korean popular music, or K-pop, said she, too, hoped to glean the meaning of the Japanese lyrics.

Of the eight attending the festival, only two said they might choose music as a career.

“I might have a career in singing, but there are still a lot of options I haven’t seen yet,” Chim said.

“I think singing for a living would be a fun thing to do,” Foss said. “It’s a way to express myself, and it’s something I love to do.” Foss has even dabbled with writing her own lyrics and scoring music.

For now, though, the youths are focused on the end of March and a choral festival that is likely to draw an audience of thousands.

Zyla-Rae Smith didn’t go last year to the festival in Philly, but her brother, David, was part of the event. She said she watched him rehearse daily, and knew from watching him that the performance would be in front of a huge audience.

“I like to sing,” she said. “And from watching him, it seemed like a really cool thing to do.”

For information about Pilgrim Academy see pilgrimacademy.org. For more about the OAKE choral festival see oake.org.

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