- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—NEWBURYPORT — After making a name for themselves as the drama and choir queens at Newburyport’s Molin Upper Elementary School, Gina McKeown and Allison Balentine are taking on the challenge of starting their own community choir for students in grades 4 to 8.

Starting later this summer, the pair will hold auditions for the new Greater Newburyport Children’s Choir.

“We decided to start the community choir because we thought it would be great for this town and all the kids to have a choir available to them for more than just for a semester after school,” McKeown said. “Plus this is a great opportunity for them to meet and make new friends with kids from the surrounding towns of Newburyport.”

Auditions will be held Aug. 20 and Aug. 25 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Hope Church in Newburyport. There will be a $10 nonrefundable tryout fee.

This group is geared toward kids who want to share in a choral experience, McKeown said, as they will be doing more than just singing. Participants will receive a choral education as well.

“We don’t want to just give these kids some sheet music and tell them what to sing,” McKeown said. “We want them to understand what we’re teaching them, and even have them be able to teach themselves or other kids in the choir. It’s important that the kids are helping one another and know what’s going on in the music.”

The big emphasis is on the music. They want it to impact the community in new ways, and further the musical education of the greater Newburyport area’s youth. The mission of the group, as stated by McKeown, “is to provide an opportunity for students to enrich their lives with quality vocal music education, community choral performances and achieve a joyful, lifelong habit of participation in music and community.”

This will also be a competitive group. The kids will perform in the Newburyport Choral Society’s annual winter concert, and compete in multiple choral competitions in the spring. Because of the competitive nature of the group, if students make it into the choir, there will be a $140 charge for each semester.

Weekly practices will be held at Hope Church, starting in the fall. The time will be split between learning the performance pieces and with music education.

Both Balentine and McKeown have musical backgrounds and they have worked together for a few years. McKeown is a music teacher and currently runs a private studio in Newburyport where she teaches piano and voice. She holds a master’s of music degree from Illinois State University with an emphasis in music therapy and a bachelor’s of music education degree from Illinois Wesleyan University.

She is the founder and director of the after-school Molin School Children’s Chorus for the past four years and has been music director for the after-school Molin Drama Club for the past five years. McKeown resides in Newburyport with her husband and their four children.

Balentine is a music teacher at Bradford Christian Academy in Haverhill. She has worked for many years at the Molin school in the after-school chorus and drama club. She is also a vocalist at Hope Church. Balentine, of Newburyport, holds a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in education. Along with McKeown and Balentine, board member Tracy Georgopoulos and accompanist Evelyn Mann will be seen often at practices.

“We’re both really excited to finally be doing this,” McKeown said. “And can’t wait to start this fall.”

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(c)2015 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)

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