Calling all young singers: Library children’s choir is back

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 2/14/17

Phina Pipia revived the Port Townsend Children’s Library Choir as a way to give back to the community that had helped nurture her creativity.

“I feel like I received so much from the community …

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Calling all young singers: Library children’s choir is back

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Phina Pipia revived the Port Townsend Children’s Library Choir as a way to give back to the community that had helped nurture her creativity.

“I feel like I received so much from the community throughout my life, and especially my childhood,” said the Port Townsend native, who as a child many years ago had sung in the choir before it was disbanded.

“I really wanted to do one thing every week that was giving back.”

The library children’s choir was something that had an impact on her early musical years, Pipia said.

“It was the first choir experience I’d ever had,” she said. “It exposed me to a lot of different music.”

The choir’s founder, Dahti Blanchard, also gave Pipia her first experience as a conductor. When she was about 10 years old, Pipia was a guest conductor at a concert. “It was a sea shanty,” Pipia said. “I remember being very excited, and also being a little nervous.”

Bringing back the choir in 2015 after it had been dormant for several years was an absolute joy, said Pipia, who is thrilled to carry on as its director for another season.

“It is especially fitting that [Pipia] should be directing the choir now,” said Jeanne Simmons, library youth services associate. “This kind of programming truly enriches children’s lives, and by extension, their families’ lives, and by further extension, our community.”

“It’s just going to be such an exciting program to offer again.” said Melody Sky Eisler, library director. “Phina helped us bring back that legacy.”

A FUN, organized PROGRAM

Wanda LeClerc enrolled her daughter, Emma, in the choir last season after finding out about it from a friend.

“As soon as she knew they were doing it again, [Emma] was like, ‘Yes, Mom, sign me up again!’”

“The experience was great,” said LeClerc, who teaches art at Grant Street Elementary. She said she recognizes a good teacher when she sees one.

Pipia was adept at organizing the large group of kids who gathered after school hours, and kept them on task, LeClerc said.

“The kids respected her,” she said. “I will recommend [the choir] to anyone.”

Rehearsals take place weekly on Monday evenings and culminate in a concert in May. The program includes songs ranging from classical to contemporary, Baroque to rock.

“I try to keep the musical selection really diverse so there’s a little bit of something for everyone,” Pipia said.

Offering a varied program is also a way to expose kids to different genres of music. “We’re going to do some classical stuff, but we’re also doing a Meghan Trainor song.”

One of Pipia’s favorite moments from last season was watching how the kids responded to some of the songs.

“I love being surprised by the kind of music they love and appreciate,” she said.

Last year, she was hesitant about having them sing John Lennon’s “Good Night,” wondering if perhaps it was too mature. But when she announced the song as a new one to learn, the kids responded with enthusiasm.

“Literally, the whole choir was like ‘Yayyyyyyyy!’” she said. “They just like totally were into it,” said Pipia, who remembers some of the kids singing the song with their eyes closed.

“I really love watching the kids own the music, and discover what they love about each of the songs.

“I also love working with kids who have never sung before. It’s really fun watching [them] discover their joy for singing and for music,” she said.

Although the choir isn’t really about the technical aspects of music, Pipia said, she does give kids an introduction to some practical skills. “I give them sheet music,” she said. “I try and weave theory in subtly.”

Older kids with more experience can also expect to be challenged. “Some of the music is sophisticated, so kids that have musical experience will definitely have meaty stuff to dig into.”

COMMUNITY EFFORT

Pipia said it’s significant that the choir is a part of a library’s culture. “Music should be accessible the way books are accessible at the library,” she said.

Staff members at the Port Townsend Public Library, including Eisler, Simmons and Kit Ward-Crixell, have been instrumental in making the Children’s Library Choir a possibility, said Pipia, who also sends a big thanks to the Friends of the Port Townsend Public Library, whose generous support keeps this program free for local youths.

Pipia is the director of the local theater company Generation Goat Rocket, which produces theater intensives for Port Townsend youths. She teaches musical theater classes at The Chameleon Theater, performs with the duo The Pipia Sisters, plays tuba with the Unexpected Brass Band; and her original musical plays have been performed both nationally and internationally.

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