Students from the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy performing at the Oregon Bach Festival

The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music

The Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy celebrates 20 years of transforming the lives of high school musicians while keeping classical music alive and relevant

The Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy celebrates 20 years of transforming the lives of high school musicians while keeping classical music alive and relevant

The Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy celebrates 20 years of transforming the lives of high school musicians while keeping classical music alive and relevant

BY MELISSA FOLEY


When he was only a 14-year-old freshman at South Eugene High School, Cole Blume’s life was forever changed by one decision – to join his friends in participating in the inaugural year of the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy. It solidified his love and passion for music and kept him on a path that led to a professional career as a teacher and performer.

“I think it makes you a more passionate artist when you have those mountaintop sort of experiences,” said Blume, who participated in the SFYCA for its first four years and earned his master’s degree in choral conducting from the University of Oregon in 2016. “When you have them by the time you are 15 years old, for me, who had already decided that I would spend my life as a professional musician and as a teacher, there’s no going back from that. It’s crystalizing, galvanizing. It set me on the path that I’m still on today.”

Students from the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy performing at the Oregon Bach Festival

Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy Director Anton Armstrong conducting students in a rehearsal during the academy

That first year, in 1998, the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy was just an experiment for the Oregon Bach Festival. Drawing primarily from students in the Lane County area, it was a nearly two-week-long day event, with students arriving in the morning and returning home at night. Over the last 20 years, it has evolved into a residential experience that has expanded nationally and grown in prominence as one of the country’s premiere vocal academies.

“When we increase the number of places that our singers are coming from, I think we really deepen the experiences that the students have when they come here, which opens their eyes to how many teenagers around the country are just like them — love singing, love music,” said Blume, who reconnected with the Youth Choral Academy while participating in the 10th anniversary concert and has been a part of the academy since then, serving as the associate director since 2010.

“A lot of times, these students are maybe one of a handful of people in their high school choirs who really get into this the way that they do. And to come and be part of a choir with people from all around the country, that really builds a lot confidence, that opens their eyes.”

Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy rehearsing for their performance in the Oregon Bach Festival

2017 Oregon Bach Festival: Legends and Legacies

The internationally recognized Oregon Bach Festival started in the early 1970s at the School of Music as a modest concert of short choral works. This summer’s season of world-class concerts and musicians, which runs through July 15, promises a range of concerts, lectures and community events — including epic works from Bach, Beethoven and Handel — and a celebration of the festival’s iconic educational roots.

During the academy, students are immersed in extensive choral training, and perform exceptional choral music while learning from internationally respected faculty. The students participate in a variety of activities — from 45 minutes of BodySinging, which includes breathing exercises, stretching, and full-range movement in a physical and vocal warm-up, and 30 minutes of vocal technique daily, to musicianship, to social activities — giving them a comprehensive knowledge of theory, history, sight-reading skills, and conducting to make them more well-rounded musicians.

“Most of these students are looking to be professionals in some way — professional teachers, singers, performers — and in all different walks of life — from musical theater to opera to bluegrass,” said Therees Hibbard, the BodySinging instructor, who began with the SFYCA in its inaugural year after earning her DMA in vocal music education and choral conducting in 1994 at the University of Oregon. “All of a sudden it dawns on them that, ‘Oh, I use my whole body to sing,’ ‘Oh, I need to know how to read music,’ ‘I need to improve this,’ ‘Wow, it takes a lot of rehearsal to make something happen.’ And that intensity and the professional attitude that goes right through the activity directors and everyone.”

Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy students participating in the BodySinging class

Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy students participating in the BodySinging class


Therees Hibbard leading the BodySinging class at the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy

However, not all of the students come to the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy already understanding their potential as musicians, and, for them, the experience can truly be transformative.

“Before I went into the SFYCA, I was a musical nobody,” said Christopher Almasie, who participated in the summer of 2012. “I'd sung in choir and in a jazz a cappella ensemble, but I never had the financial means to take lessons or know what sort of music to have prepared. For God's sake, my audition song was ‘Dust in the Wind’ by Kansas while my friend played guitar for me. I had no clue what I was getting myself into.”

Planning to attend the University of Oregon and major in psychology, Almasie thought of the academy as a final hoorah before going off to college and leaving music behind. But his experience at the Youth Choral Academy added an additional major to the plans and changed the course of his life.

“I learned that I had an innate talent that I didn't realize beforehand, and I realized that I had to keep music in my life. In my second year at the UO, I auditioned for the School of Music and got in by the skin of my teeth. Pushing myself to pursue music at the UO was my most incredible accomplishment,” said Almasie, who earned degrees in both psychology and music from the UO this spring and is now a Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy activity director.

Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy rehearsing for their performance in the Oregon Bach Festival

Hibbard said that having the ability to watch and sometimes perform with professional musicians while attending the amazing Oregon Bach Festival concerts transforms the students’ lives, making them see that they can do so much more than they thought possible.

“There’s a whole new goal of where they are headed,” said Hibbard. “Even if they are not going to be performers, they are going to be great listeners and consumers. We’re creating the next generation of art supporters and artists.”

Stage entrance sign

SFYCA: 20th Anniversary Concert

On July 11 at the Silva Concert Hall in the Hult Center for Performing Arts, the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy will perform Handel’s Zadok the Priest — the coronation song of British monarchs for nearly 300 years — Mendelssohn’s Psalm 42, and “This House of Peace,” a 2008 piece by composer Ralph Johnson, which draws text from actual caregivers at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Springfield, Oregon. Current SFYCA singers will also be joined on stage by alumni for a world premiere piece from Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen.

The Youth Choral Academy also goes beyond just training musicians and performers and fostering a lifelong love of music, it develops exceptional people, ones that leave the academy transformed, better than when they arrived.

“I think that the students who come back year after year demonstrate to us that the model is working to create not only that sort of a musician, but that sort of a citizen — someone who is engaged, someone who is passionate, someone who is sophisticated,” said Blume. “It’s not just making beautiful music, which is central to what we do of course, but it’s also creating what he [SFYCA director Anton Armstrong] calls ‘the whole person.’ It’s not just about creating beautiful voices and beautiful musicians, but it’s also about creating beautiful people and beautiful spirits.”

Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy Director Anton Armstrong having his photo taken with students participating in the academy

Living, learning, practicing, and rehearsing on the University of Oregon campus, students are also exposed to their first taste of college life, one that has been profoundly influenced by the UO. In addition to expanding their resumes and repertoires, they are also learning that college may now be a part of their future, something that may or may not have been in their minds before this experience began.

“In a very active way, I think that it puts the University of Oregon in the lives of teenagers long before they are ever making any college decisions. We’ve had students come to the Youth Choral Academy in maybe their freshman or sophomore year and they had no hope in their lives of ever going to college, but then coming to the academy and living on a college campus for 12-13 days, attending rehearsals and classes in college buildings, eating in a college dorm, that puts the University of Oregon in their life at a time when they don’t know where they’re going to be living when the Youth Choral Academy ends. But for now, they know that they’ve had this home on the University of Oregon campus,” said Blume.

“I can point to a number of students who have gone on to college. They ended up dreaming big dreams for themselves and living them out because, for them, the Youth Choral Academy was this pivotal and empowering experience. I think that is good for the UO, changing the lives of young people before they even get to be an undergrad. And if they get to go to the University of Oregon, all the better.”

Students hugging after the final performance of the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy

Students getting their photo taken after the final performance of the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy

The experience isn’t just transformative and life changing for the students who participate; it has also had that effect on the staff that enjoy working with the students every summer.

“It is probably some of the most inspiring teaching that I do,” said Hibbard. “Every year I think it just can’t get any better and then it does. Because these young people come with such open hearts and open minds. And they truly just give themselves to the music and the process. It is amazing to witness the transformation.”

As a premier national vocal academy, the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy, the Oregon Bach Festival, and the University of Oregon have shown the value of music and music education, especially in the hearts and minds of young people, for 20 years.

“I think that it demonstrates the university’s commitment to the wider community, not only Oregon, but the Northwest,” said Blume. “I think that this makes the university a leader in choral music, especially in the choral music education of young people.”

For its 20th anniversary, the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy runs from July 2–11, with the signature performance on July 11 at the Silva Concert Hall in the Hult Center for Performing Arts. The choir will perform Handel’s Zadok the Priest — the coronation song of British monarchs for nearly 300 years — Mendelssohn’s Psalm 42, and “This House of Peace,” a 2008 piece by composer Ralph Johnson. Current SFYCA singers will also be joined on stage by alumni for a world premiere piece from Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen.

For more information on how to audition and participate in the future, please visit the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy page on the Oregon Bach Festival website.

High school senior Natalie Brandt’s piece Passion, Beauty, Sadness, and Joy was selected as the official artwork of the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy 20th Anniversary Concert

Double Your Gift to Arts Education

Contributions to the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy help give talented young singers the experience of a lifetime. Since it began, the academy has relied on generous donors who believe in supporting arts education, cultivating talent, and introducing future generations to classical music. 

Support scholarships today and your donation will have twice the impact. An anonymous donor will match (up to $250,000) all gifts to the Saltzman Scholarship Endowment. As a contribution to the endowment, your gift will benefit young students for generations to come — in perpetuity.

“I dream of what the next thing will be. I hope that there’s day when all participants can come and be fully scholarshiped,” said Blume. “I dream of a day when our Saltzman Scholarship Endowment will be fully matured and where the principle will be able to create enough scholarship money that any student who wants to come to the Youth Choral Academy will come and not have finances prevent them from coming.”

Note: High school senior Natalie Brandt’s piece Passion, Beauty, Sadness, and Joy (shown left) was selected as the official artwork of the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy 20th Anniversary Concert