Youngsters’ voices soar in Fort Lauderdale-based Girl Choir of South Florida
By Julie Landry Laviolette, Special Correspondent
February 19, 2011
Long before “Glee” helped make singing cool again, Wallis Peterson was bringing young people together to cultivate their vocal ability. As founder and artistic director for the Girl Choir of South Florida, Peterson has been showcasing and grooming local talent for the past five years.
The nonprofit, Fort Lauderdale-based group has 120 members ages 7 to 18 from throughout South Florida. Auditions are staged each year in January, June and August for the choir, which offers four levels of varying skill and experience.
“We’re looking for young kids who have an interest that could unfold into a passion for singing,” said Peterson, of Oakland Park. “We try to recruit younger kids because if you can match pitch and keep a steady beat when you are 7 years old, you can learn to be a good musician.”
The chorus practices weekly at venues in Davie or Plantation, but Peterson aims to give each child a full musical education. Members learn to read music and study music theory and history. They also learn to teach by mentoring younger members.
“They’re not just getting together as singers. By the time they graduate, they will be able to use their voice as an instrument, just like a pianist or violinist,” Peterson said.
The choir performs at two major concerts a year, at two to three community events a semester, and is part of the concert series for several churches.
The group is classically based but also dabbles in pieces from Japan, Germany, France, Italy and other countries, as well as Broadway show tunes.
“I want the kids to be exposed to as many different types of music and as many different kinds of composers as possible,” Peterson said.
Peterson said it has always typically been easier to recruit girls than boys to sing, but she credits shows such as “Glee” for upping the popularity factor.
“The upside is that it has made singing cool. The unrealistic side is that every kid wants to have great costumes, be in big productions and always have a band hanging around to accompany them,” she said.
Peterson has taught music for 20 years, but it was a stint at South Broward High School, where she resurrected the school’s choir program, that she rediscovered a love for the women’s ensemble.
“I had an affinity for it,” she said. “There is significant good music that you could make with just women’s voices.”
When she taught with the Florida’s Singing Sons Boychoir from 1998 through 2006, she discovered a need in the community for a girls’ group.
“Parents would come to auditions and love the idea, and they would say, ‘Where can I bring my daughter to audition?’” Peterson said. “That was the impetus to start the Girl Choir, because there was really nothing serving the county.”
Annual tuition is $400 to $850, depending on the level, and tuition assistance is available. For more information, call 954-553-2809 or visit http://www.girlchoir.org.