TEMPLE TERRACE – Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Averill Summer decided to follow her dream.
In turn, that has allowed hundreds of youngsters to attain their aspirations of becoming top-notch singers within a highly acclaimed chorus that’s made a name for itself both locally and throughout the world.
Summer – who retired in 2010 as an associate professor of piano at the University of South Florida – is founder of the Tampa Bay Children’s Chorus.
The idea to form the group, made up of children in second through 12th grades, was born out of her successful creation of a children’s choir at St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Temple Terrace.
“I found it particularly enjoyable to bring young people to the point where they could produce and enjoy high-quality musical literature,” Summer said. “And I became aware of some of the beautiful secular music available to young voices.”
The classically based choral program is divided in three separate choirs: Cantate is for singers in grades two through five; Concert for children in the fifth grade and higher; and Chamber for advanced-level singers.
They perform at various Tampa Bay area events and venues and on several occasions are in the company of renowned music composers and choral conductors.
“For me it has offered the opportunity to be involved with dedicated and talented youngsters and to introduce them to experiences that they otherwise might not have had,” Summer said. “Taking our groups to festivals in Austria, Scotland, Canada and venues in the U.S. has been a privilege and an experience I have enjoyed tremendously.”
Youngsters living in Hillsborough and Pasco counties rehearse every Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. at St. Catherine’s, 502 Druid Hills Road, the chorus’ home base since 1989.
Children in Pinellas County – where a branch of the TBCC formed last year – come together from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights at the First Presbyterian Church, 701 Beach Drive N.E. in St. Petersburg. The chorus, however, has no religious affiliation with either church.
Youngsters interested in joining the chorus must audition, a requirement every year even for those who have participated in the past.
Auditions are held in conjunction with the weekly rehearsals at both sites but must be scheduled in advance by logging on to www.tbcchorus.org.
Amber Blair and Andrea Peacock, who by day respectively oversee choruses at Smith Middle School in Tampa and Burns Middle School in Brandon, serve as the Tampa Bay Children’s Choir directors at the Temple Terrace site. Both are professional singers.
“I think this chorus provides children with an awesome musical experience,” said Blair, who like Peacock earned a master’s degree in vocal performance at the University of South Florida.
While a student at USF, Peacock said she saw first-hand the passion Summer had for the children’s chorus and knew then she wanted to be involved.
“I think it provides a lot of opportunity for children, especially for those in schools without choruses and for kids who are home-schooled,” she said.
Progress Village resident Jennifer Allen, whose 15-year-old son Nicolas, was at St. Catherine’s recently to audition for his second season with the chorus, called the program “amazing.”
“They do a lot of different performances and I think it is really good for them,” she said. “It gives them structure.”
Faydria Johnson of Plant City, who was also there awaiting her 10-year-old daughter’s audition for a second season, said the children’s chorus has greatly improved Katryn’s self-esteem.
“The ladies (Blair and Peacock) are wonderful,” she added.
When asked what she liked best about the program, Katryn immediately said, “Singing at a Rays game.”
Kerry Mayes of Temple Terrace also was on hand with her daughter, 11-year-old daughter Leza.
“This program is phenomenal,” she said. “My daughter has always liked to sing but before she joined this chorus she wasn’t a good singer. But now she sings really good.”
Mayes also noted the program has helped in crafting Leza’s future plans.
“She wants to go to Blake (High School) and focus on the performing arts,” Kerry Mayes said.
New Tampa resident Andrea Ramirez-Mendez, 15, a junior at Freedom High who has spent seven seasons with the chorus, said the program also sparked her interest in “doing something with music” as a career.
“I’m so glad I did this because I like real good music, I’ve met so many great composers, and I’ve gotten to travel to New Orleans, and Winston-Salem and Burlington, North Carolina,” Andrea said.
Summer – a former Temple Terrace and Tampa Palms resident who upon her retirement from USF moved to St. Petersburg – also is the person credited with creating a branch of the children’s chorus near her new home.
“I wanted to have singing children closer to me that I could work with and enjoy,” she said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]