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Off to Carnegie Hall
Cappella choir founder and director Stephanie Charbonneau signs off after 10 years.
Growing up, Stephanie Charbonneau had always wanted to be part of a girls’ choir.
She was a musically talented kid, who picked up on the piano at age 3 and found her singing voice soon after. She longed for a group that would foster those abilities. But around that time — the early ’80s in Kitsap — there weren’t many real groups for chorally-minded kids to join, she said. There were music classes in schools, children’s choruses at church and some private lessons for those who could afford, but nothing extracurricular that offered something for everyone.
Charbonneau followed a musically-guided path regardless, culminating with a degree in piano performance from Pacific Lutheran University. It was during her study there, she found a way to make her long-held desire for a community girls’ choir in Kitsap a reality.
Teaming up with Port Orchard-based teacher and director, also a PLU graduate, Donald Stojack, they established the Cappella Girls’ Chorus in 1998.
“I had always wanted a choir, specifically a girls’ choir in this area,” Charbonneau said of Cappella’s formation. There was already a Kitsap boys choir established at that time being directed by Stojack, so she took note from him to start the girls choir. “In the beginning, I was able to use (the choir) as a project for school, they even went and performed for the class.”
The choir made the grade, she said, and now 10 years later has become an after school special with the goal of providing something for everyone through music. The original 23-member girls’ chorus evolved into the Cappella Choirs non-profit organization in 1999, which is now based at the Cappella Music Center on Sydney Avenue in Port Orchard, offering K-12 grade choirs as well as pre-schooler/parent sessions and private lessons and the full service music center to kids in Kitsap and Mason counties.
After 10 years, with all of that in place, Charbonneau is ready to pass the torch.
While she’ll still serve as organizer for the annual Fort Warden Children’s Choir Festival (which is becoming more and more like a year-round task, she said), Charbonneau will be stepping down from her duties directing the Cappella girls choir and the tour choir. Her assistant director Alicia Lundberg will replace her. But before she goes, Charbonneau and the Cappella touring choir will be venturing to the most famous stage in music at Carnegie Hall in New York City later this month.
Cappella’s touring choir routinely takes two-to-three trips each year, Carbonneau said. They’ve been to Hawaii and to the Pacific Rim Children’s Chorus festival and even to New York City before, but this is Cappella’s first trip to Carnegie Hall.
They had actually been scheduled for a European tour this summer, Charbonneau said, but were priced out.
“We just kept watching the exchange rates go higher and higher and then, back in October we thought, OK, what’s the next best thing that we can afford,” she said.
The Cappella Choir will join three other children’s choirs for three days of rehearsal and clinics in preparation for an official National Children’s Chorus concert June 14 at Carnegie. A pretty prestigious second best.
They’ll be singing mostly opera-style pieces geared toward children’s choirs and studying with a distinguished and seasoned children’s chorus conductor named Emily Ellsworth Charbonneau said.
But even bigger than music and technique, the trip should help provide perspective.
“The No. 1 thing that I see is it expands their world view,” Charbonneau said. “Especially for kids who live in a place like Port Orchard, or for some of these kids who’ve never even been on a plane before. The biggest thing for me is watching them grow, seeing the independence and the excitement.”
There’s little shortage of excitement for this trip.
One of the choir’s members — Anna Peterson, a graduating senior from North Mason High School — is even planning to miss her commencement ceremony to sing at Carnegie.