BRANDON — Julie O’Donnell, owner of Ave Maria Catholic Gifts, is offering a new product at her store — a kids’ singing group called His Grace Reigns.
O’Donnell has been singing all her life and began piano lessons at age seven. In college, she took voice lessons, played clarinet in band and orchestra and performed in musical theater. After graduating with an advertising degree, she toured the country, singing at retreats for teens. She currently participates in Nativity Catholic Church children’s music ministries.
She hosts rehearsals at her store for the two groups that comprise His Grace Reigns. The main ensemble, Grace Reigns, includes experienced singers ages seven to 17. It meets from 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays.
O’Donnell expects a lot from these singers and works with them individually on phrasing and vocal technique as well as on ensemble singing.
Little Graces, which consists of children ages seven to 11 with little or no performance experience, meets from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays. O’Donnell will teach them to blend their voices mostly through group work.
Students who like music but are too shy to sing in public “don’t have to commit to performing,” said O’Donnell. “They can rehearse with us until they are ready. Meanwhile, they can experience the service aspect by helping out behind the scenes at performances.”
At the first Monday night rehearsal, O’Donnell told the kids they were to glorify God, not themselves, not her, and they would serve Jesus as His hands and feet “by serving and helping others. You have been given a gift of music, and you can convey that to people who need a little hope, joy and a promise that things will get better.”
She hopes to attract singers seeking serious training and will work year round with them, because “It takes continuity for kids to grow as musicians,” she said.
Micha Schrimsher, a freshman drama major at Howard W. Blake High School, an arts magnet school, and member of Grace Reigns, is excited about the way the group combines praising God with using one’s talent. Her mom, Jeri Artal of Brandon, is O’Donnell’s sister-in-law.
Twelve-year-old Makaira Fisk of Valrico was invited by O’Donnell to join Grace Reigns after Fisk won the 2013 Novemberfest Idol contest.
Fisk “has been singing since she could talk but hasn’t had lessons,” said her mom, Kristina Fisk. “She wakes up singing; she sings the entire day and sings with her heart.”
Makaira Fisk sings in chorus at Mulrennan Middle School and has sung for the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. She auditioned in New York for “Annie” and Atlanta for “The Sound of Music” and has performed locally with the Village Players, Brandon Youth Theater and Florida Academy of Performing Arts. She won Mulrennan Idol and came in second in Brandon Idol.
“For her to sing with kids who have a love of music and be fostered in a Christian environment is definitely a big deal,” said Kristina Fisk.
It will cost students who join $135 per month for Grace Reigns and $125 per month for Little Graces. Fees include music, a T-shirt, vocal training, accompaniment and gigs. Rehearsals take place at Ave Maria Catholic Gifts, 222 Bryan Road.
For more information, visit His Grace Reigns on Facebook. To schedule an audition, contact O’Donnell at (813) 689-3561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send news of community interest to Barbara Routen at Neighbors@tampabay.rr.com.