It’s nice when anything can get back to some semblance of normal. In March 2020, the Olympia Youth Chorus (OYC), had to stop everything just one week before their 25th anniversary concert at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts. They also had to cancel their anniversary tour, which included performing at the National Youth Choir Festival at Carnegie Hall in New York City in June 2022.
Now, almost two years later, they are finally returning to in-person rehearsals and are ready to welcome new students. With a long history in Thurston County, the OYC is a vibrant program dedicated to providing a musical outlet for local youth. “OYC began under the direction of Cindy Dinsmore,” shares Nadine Bozeman, artistic director. “Her vision to create an excellent choral experience for kids continues to grow, 26 years later. We have a staff of four choral directors, three accompanists, and four supportive staff members- they provide the framework for the program. But the heartbeat is absolutely the kids! There’s something so special about voices joining together, singing the same message, breathing and moving together.”
Suddenly not being able to get together and sing was a blow for everyone. They finished out the 2020 season via Zoom, but obviously that’s just not the same as singing live. “It is challenging to do choir rehearsals online with young, developing singers,” says Lorraine Hamilton, executive director of Olympia Youth Chorus. “So much of what a choir learns in rehearsal is the importance of listening to each other and blending voices together.”
School was online, extra-circular activities were online. Dances, parties and other get togethers were cancelled. It was hard on the parents and the singers. “Zoom fatigue was a real issue, and remains an issue in the pandemic,” shares Hamilton. Because of this, the OYC found online options, including singing lessons, just weren’t sustainable. But being shut down hurt business. “We were effectively shut down from May 2020 until September 2021,” she adds. “Our bank advised us that our organization was not eligible to apply for any of the SBA loan programs. Fortunately, we had some reserves set aside, which made a big difference to our being able to start up again in September. We also had to cut staff pay and have a couple of our program staff work in a voluntary capacity for many months.”
Making Sweet Music Once Again
Thankfully their voices were not silenced permanently, and on December 6, 2021, the Olympia Youth Chorus had it’s first in person concert, for parents only, since December 2019.
The youth were happy to be back, singing with friends. “I’ve known many of these singers for years now and I think we all felt a loss when we couldn’t sing together during quarantine,” shares Ivy Aijala-Wardell, a singer in the advanced treble choir. “I’m just so happy to be back in person with these wonderful performers and our fantastic director Ms. Nadine.”
“I love Olympia Youth Chorus!” shares first-grader Olivia Simone. “Mrs. Suzi is so much fun to learn new songs with, and I get to make new friends.”
“The past two years have taught us what a precious communal art that choral singing is,” adds Bozeman. “We’re so thankful to be with our sweet singers again, and we’re looking forward with hope in this building season!” A building season means their choir is not at capacity yet and they are looking for local youth with an interest in music to join. “We are optimistic that we will get back to our regular season experiences and numbers in the near future,” shares Hamilton. “Retreats and travel had to be postponed and canceled in 2020. We hope to be able to travel to festivals again in the future.”
Olympia Youth Chorus needs new singers of all ages, from kindergarten through high school. If your child is interested, you may contact them through Facebook, Instagram or the Olympia Youth Chorus website.
Don’t have a youth but want to support the choir? You can donate to the Singer Assistance Fund, which helps cover tuition for youth who need financial aid. And of course, attending concerts helps support OYC as well. They are performing “How Can I Keep From Singing” March 19, 2022 and “Together in Song,” their Season Final Concert May 21, 2022 at the Washington Center For the Performing Arts.
“Young people are struggling with the pandemic circumstances,” says Hamilton. “We know that music makes a positive difference in their lives. Our singers are very happy to be together again, singing in person, even if it’s at a distance and wearing a mask.”