BELTON — Jonathan Gary smiled when he looked at the children and parents taking their seats in Hughes Recital Hall on the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor campus Monday evening. “This is a good turnout,” he said.

More than 100 people gathered for the university’s Conservatory Choirs kickoff event, a free introductory rehearsal, meet-and-greet session and pizza party. With a choir for every skill level and age group, the children ranged from 7 to 18 years old.

Gary, the conservatory’s director, welcomed attendees and briefly detailed some of the important facets of the choir programs.

“Tonight’s our first rehearsal, and we have to practice. Every single rehearsal is important,” he stressed. “There are only 11 rehearsals until dress rehearsal, and you only get two excused absences.”

The big finale for the choirs is the spring concert and awards night April 28, which is followed by the choir’s carnival. Each ensemble will meet in a different room in UMHB’s Presser Hall “on just about every Monday evening as listed on your calendar,” Gary said, “including Presidents Day.” A bonus freebie was announced: a sight-reading workshop for seventh- and eighth-grade choir members at no charge.

The four directors took their respective choir groups to separate rehearsal rooms as first-timers and returning youngsters made new friends.

The largest ensemble is the Preparatory Choir, which admits ages 7 to 12, and is directed by Krista Eshbaugh, assisted by UMHB music student Caroline Brown.

“This is my last year in Prep Choir,” said Isabel Jennings, a 9-year-old who attends Tarver Elementary in Temple. “I hope to move to Concert Girls Choir next year.”

In addition to Concert Girls and Concert Boys Choirs, a co-ed High School Choir also was hard at work, with UMHB pianist Nelda Milligan and director Nancy Bales engaged with a tricky multiple-meter musical composition.

“I started at (age) 6,” said Rowan Vai of Belton. “I’ve been in Conservatory Choirs for six years.” Vai is home-schooled, which accounts for roughly 40 percent of the choir participants, Gary said.

“My daughter, Allison, sings in the Prep Choir. It’s her second year,” said Tamara Alcozer of Salado. “It really helps her to learn musicology; she loves to sing and loves performing.”

In the fourth floor band hall, Eshbaugh captured the attention of her young group and somehow managed to corral the boys and girls into a post-pizza rehearsal. “Scoot to the front of your chair, get ready to sing.”

“This is my favorite age group,” Eshbaugh said. “Their voices are so angelic.”

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