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Behind The Scenes Of Lumina Youth Choirs

Nov 29, 2017

As far back as ancient Greece, composers have written music to be performed by children. It's a unique sound that adults can't duplicate.

It seems we hear it more often at the holidays, whether it's singers caroling at the mall or providing heavenly backup for an orchestra or pop singer.

If you go looking for choral music performed by children here in the Tampa Bay area, you will find Lumina Youth Choirs. They were formed a few years back as a merger between the Tampa Bay Children's Chorus and the Gulf Coast Children's Choir.

Lumina is actually five choirs with kids whose ages range from kindergarten to high school.

They have open auditions every year, but also recruit in local schools.

"Then there are ....the friends, " said Artistic Director Deah McReynolds. "If someone's in the group and they're loving it, they're inviting their friends to be a part of it."

Artistic Director, Deah McReynolds
Credit Marc Haze

While the choir offers some scholarships, most of the financial burden for keeping the program going is borne by the singer's families.

In addition to handling the business end of things, McReynolds also conducts the older singers.

Instructing children in music these days is perhaps more of a challenge than it might have been decades before. Everyone has a cell phone or tablet, McReynolds said.

While the attention span of kids these days may be shorter, overall, it's been a positive.

"They can see things. They can find performances," McReynolds. "They can hear music they might not have been able to hear before. It doesn't really distract them from their primary goal, which is to make beautiful music together."

Lumina Youth Choirs rehearse in the music building on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. It's not uncommon for multiple rehearsals to be going on at the same time. The choirs of older kids practice downstairs in a large rehearsal hall and the younger choirs practice upstairs.

Upstairs is where you will find Kyla Bailey. By day, she's a public school music teacher. After school, she's the conductor of the two youngest Lumina Choirs: "Aurora" and "Prima."

On the day I visited, Bailey was conducting "Prima," the youngest of the young - kindergarten and first grade. The term "herding cats" comes to mind. The kids fidget, they yell, they scream and taunt each other.

Bailey gets their attention, warming them up and leading them in a spirited rendition of the children's song "Little Bunny FuFu."

"Primi" rehearsing "Little Bunny Fufu" with Kyla Bailey conducting.
Credit Marc Haze

While the kids are a long way from sounding ready for prime time, Bailey said important teaching is going on.

"We're training them to do little things," Bailey said. "Sitting in musician position, watching the conductors hands and keeping their eyes forward."

Bailey encourages the kids to use their hands and bodies when rehearsing.

"This allows them to reign in their energy in a productive way and to connect the body to what we are asking of the voice."

Teaching music to children is Bailey's passion. She caught the choir bug in college and is in her fourth year with Lumina Youth Choirs. She explains that something magical happens to children when they meet other kids like them.

"We bring them in and they become friends with kids they would have never met otherwise," Bailey said. "Their love of music brings them together."

Kyla Bailey rehearsing "Aurora."
Credit Marc Haze

Lumina has done national tours and recently returned from performing in Canada. They joined the Florida Orchestra for performances of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" and have backed entertainers such as Kenny Rogers in local appearances.

The group is also reaching audiences through social media. Deah McReynolds said a recent Facebook post garnered international attention. The group was rehearsing a round composed by Abbie Betinis called "Love is Love is Love  is Love."

Deah McReynolds and "Stele."
Credit Marc Haze/WUSF News

"It was just after one of the mass shootings," McReynolds. "The words were so beautiful and it was so meaningful,. The kids said, "We have to record this."

The group went down to the lobby, gathered in the shape of a heart and sang.

Two days later the Facebook post had 15,000 views. It was shared by the social media site "Choirbuzz."

McReynolds said no matter how many times she conducts, there is something magical in every performance.

"There are moments of greatness," McReynolds said. "Things that we worked on in rehearsal that had not come to fruition until that moment when we're all together on stage, trusting each other and allowing ourselves to be in service of the music."

She smiles.

"Suddenly, they get it, and they sing, and it's magnificent."

Lumina Youth Choirs is preparing for their holiday concert called "Merry and Bright" It's Dec. 9 at the Lake Magdelene United Methodist Church in Tampa. You can hear more of their music on their Facebook page.