Every week from September through May, 320 young singers from across the Twin Cities come to the Bloomington Center for the Arts to rehearse with Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs. “It’s the best two hours of my week,” says high school senior Molly Robblee, “Every Sunday evening is a peaceful and joyful way to welcome in the upcoming week.” For 11-year-old Lucy Flatley, it’s getting to see her friends from other schools every Monday afternoon that she looks forward to. “I like singing with other kids who love to sing to as much as I do.” For some singers, it’s the feeling of creating something greater than yourself. “To be able to express stories and messages through music with so many talented people is simply astonishing,” says Mason Kimbell, a senior from Cottage Grove.
For almost 40 years, children in the Twin Cities have been meeting outside of school every week to sing with their friends. In addition to providing high-quality choral music education, Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs (ACYC) has always sought to provide opportunities for singers to build confidence, self-esteem, teamwork, and a life-long love of singing.
ACYC started out as the Bloomington Children’s Choir back in 1980 with a mission to provide an advanced choral experience for talented youth and to supplement the musical training offered through school music programs. The choir, rehearsing once a week, began with twenty-five singers, aged 7-14. By the end of its first year, the choir, renamed Angelica Cantanti, had doubled in size to include over 50 enthusiastic young singers, rehearsing twice a week. In the mid-90s, Angelica Cantanti consisted of five choirs with over 250 singers, ages 7-18, with performances ranging from celebrations in senior residencies to participation in festivals around the world.
Rita Docter was a conductor and the Artistic Coordinator for ACYC for over 25 years. She retired in 2011. “Of course I’ve seen a lot of changes in the Angelica organization over the years, but I’m especially happy when I hear from alumni singers who as adults have satisfying careers and have started their own families. They have fond memories of their time singing in Angelica. Singing has changed their lives! Angelica will always have a special place in their hearts.”
ACYC has long been one of the Twin Cities leading children’s community choir programs, with thousands of young singers participating over the years. The choirs perform annually at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis and the Ordway Concert Hall in St. Paul, filling these venues with family, friends, and music lovers from around the metro area. It is important to the organization to keep these concerts accessible to all, offering performances that are free and open to the public.
The choirs are conducted by dedicated, professional music educators and artists, each very active in the Twin Cities choral community. Elizabeth Egger joined the artistic team in 2014 and has directed the Con Brio and Concert Choirs. She says, “Working with ACYC has been one of my biggest joys. I look forward to picking repertoire that I know will fit with these singers that are looking for a little bit more challenge. These are great kids that are happy to have this opportunity to sing. I’m thrilled to be their director!”
The artistic staff thoughtfully selects concert repertoire for their ensembles. Conductors keep the focus on what the singers will get to experience and learn, allowing them opportunities to grow musically, enjoy sounds that inspire them to continue singing, and to work with texts that teach life lessons and are emotional and meaningful.
A signature of our winter and spring performances is a mass choir piece, where all of the young voices join together on stage to share in song. Choosing this music can be challenging. “It needs to be accessible to a wide scope of age and musical abilities, and the text of the piece must resonate with children of varying degrees of maturity and understanding,” says Egger. “The musical parts must culminate in a final choral work that makes all of our singers feel successful.” One of the goals for this piece is for all of the singers to feel a sense of community and bonding within all of the choirs. The youngest singers feel proud singing alongside the older singers, and the older singers are given an opportunity to mentor and take leadership with the youngest singers.
In 2011, the Encore adult choir was created and designed as a group to keep ACYC alumni singing. Led by long-time Angelica director Nancy Grundahl, this ensemble has grown to nearly 60 singers and includes members from the community as well as alumni who participated in the Angelica choir program from as far back as the ‘80’s.
In addition to the artistic staff, ACYC has two full-time and two part-time employees, an active Board of Directors, and dedicated parent volunteers who generously give their time to ensure these singers have an exceptional musical experience. Starting next fall, programming is being expanded to include kindergarten and 1st grade singers, and 2 additional choirs that will meet on Saturday mornings. Executive Director Audrey Riddle, says, “As we get closer to our 40th anniversary, ACYC continues to honor its roots while looking ahead and embracing new opportunities. Our overall membership has been growing and we are pleased to offer ten choirs next year, so we are sure to keep everyone singing.”
Recently, the organization was recognized as WCCO Viewers’ Choice for Best Community Choir in Minnesota. Shortly after receiving that honor, ACYC singers performed at the 2018 Super Bowl at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, appearing with singers from the youth choral group ComMUSICation to sing “America the Beautiful” with broadway star Leslie Odom Jr.
This year started on an especially high note for ACYC as the Treble Singers, led by conductor Philip Brown, were selected to perform at the 2019 ACDA National Conference in Kansas City, MO. High school senior Zoe Zarth, who has been singing in ACYC since 4th grade, enjoyed preparing for the trip. “I’m so grateful for the experience of performing with the Treble Singers at the National Conference. It was a highlight of my years in this organization. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for Angelica!”
Michelle Gehrz teaches K-5 music and directs two choirs at Birchview Elementary School in the Wayzata School District. She is also the Co-Director of the Wayzata Elementary All-District Choir and directs an adult treble choir in the Twin Cities called Bella Lumina. Her teaching career has spanned all grade levels K-12 at private, charter, and public schools. Michelle attended St. Olaf College and received a Bachelor of Music degree in both Church Music/Organ Performance and Music Education and she attended the University of Notre Dame and received a Master of Music degree in Sacred Music/Organ Performance. Later she would complete all but her thesis for the Master of Arts degree in Music Education at the University of St. Thomas. Michelle is an accompanist for many ACDA events/honor choirs as well as the MMEA All-State Treble Choir. Michelle will direct the MN ACDA 4-5-6 Girls Honor Choir in May 2020.
Rachel Lucius teaches K-5 general music at Rahn Elementary School of Arts & Technology in the Burnsville, Savage, Eagan school district. A certified Orff-Schulwerk and Kodály music educator, Rachel holds a B.A. in Vocal Music Education from St. Olaf College, and an M.A. in Music Education from the University of St. Thomas. Additionally, she has completed three levels of graduate choral conducting with Dr. Angela Broeker at UST. She has worked on the artistic staff of The Northfield Youth Choirs, Camp Albemarle, the summer music program of The American Boychoir School, in Princeton, NJ, and Allegro Choral Academy. Rachel spent 5 months in 2017 living in Finland where she studied children’s choirs and music education on a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant. Rachel will direct the MN ACDA 4-5-6 Boys Honor Choir in May of 2019.
Elizabeth Egger is the Choir Director at Jordan Middle School. She earned her MA in Music Education at the University of St. Thomas and BM summa cum laude in Vocal Performance and Music Education at the University of Minnesota. Her Jordan singers were featured as a clinic choir for the ACDA Fall Conference in 2015 and selected to perform at the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA) Midwinter Convention in 2014. Most recently, she directed the Cherub and Chorister Choirs at Plymouth Congregational Church and the Prelude Choir with the Minneapolis Youth Chorus. A Wisconsin native, she has held teaching and conducting positions in schools and churches in the Milwaukee area including the Milwaukee Children’s Choir. She has sung professionally with The Singers-Minnesota Choral Artists, Milwaukee Choral Artists, Florentine Opera, and Skylight Music Theatre. In February 2018, she conducted the Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs performance at Super Bowl LII.
Philip Brown is the Director of Choral Activities at Thomas Jefferson Senior High School. He graduated summa cum laude from Bethany College (Kansas City), majoring in K-12 music education. He later received his M.M. degree in music education from Northern Arizona University. His choral groups have been selected for performances at: MMEA Mid-Winter Conference, ACDA-MN Fall Conference, NC-ACDA Conference, ACDA-MN Choral Arts Finale, St. Olaf College Choir Festival and the Concordia College Choir Festival. Philip was honored as the 2011 ACDA-MN Young Director of the Year. In 2013 he received the VocalEssence/ACDA-MN Creative Programming Award for his repertoire philosophy and programming. In February 2019, he conducted the Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs -Treble Singers at the National ACDA Conference in Kansas City, MO.
Nancy Grundahl is the Director of the adult Angelica Encore Choral Ensemble. She is a conductor, composer, and soloist, and holds vocal performance degrees from St. Olaf College and the University of Minnesota. Over fifty of Nancy’s arrangements and compositions for solo voice and choirs have been published and are sung across the country. She is active as an adjudicator, clinician, soloist, and guest conductor. As a soloist, Nancy has appeared in recitals and concerts throughout the area, and has taught voice at St. Olaf College. Her exploration of vocal techniques for beautiful singing is a focus of her teaching and conducting. Nancy was the conductor of the Angelica Cantanti Youth Choir’s Concert Choir for 25 years.