Freshmen Gabi Alvarado, Brandi Riziki, Chardonnay Needler, Allison Zhang and Alice Kellie sing for residents at senior living homes. Zhang, a member of Lifting Spirits with Music, created a group of high schoolers to sing with the nonprofit organization.

Allison Zhang brings nonprofit student-musician organization to SCDS; freshman choir sings at living facilities

Since sixth grade, freshman Allison Zhang has been a member of Lifting Spirits with Music, a nonprofit organization made up of 22 students who sing in groups or perform solos at living facilities in Sacramento.

Since seventh grade, Zhang had also been a part of middle-school choir.

However, she found herself too busy to take part in the high-school choir this year.

Zhang quickly found a solution: bring the organization to SCDS and create a group comprised of former SCDS middle-school choir members.

“I wanted to keep on singing, and Kathy was short on singers, so I figured that this was a way to solve the problem,” she said.

Zhang emailed the former choir members, describing the organization created and loosely directed by piano teacher Kathy Atkins. The email detailed what they would do as a group, as well as when they would meet for practice.

Former middle-school choir members freshmen Gabi Alvarado, Bianca Hansen, Chardonnay Needler, Monique Lonergan and Chloé Collinwood all initially volunteered to be part of the group.

However, as time passed, many found themselves too busy to continue.

But other students were also interested in joining once they heard about it, including new freshman Yanele Ledesma.

“I wanted to try something new and meet other students,” Ledesma said.

An originally small group of singers quickly turned into a larger one, with a mixture of former choir members and new students.

New freshmen Brandi Riziki, Michaela Chen, Alice Kellie and Ledesma joined remaining former choir members Alvarado, Needler and Zhang.

Beginning in early September, the music group has practiced whenever everyone has time, usually twice a week.

The group has already performed twice, at Eskaton Monroe Lodge on Oct. 11 and Nov. 8 at Carlton Plaza with Lifting Spirits with Music.

According to Zhang, the first performance went really well.

“We were still new to this, (so) there were were some technicalities, but the music was great and I loved doing it,” she said.

Needler said she thought that the  experience was rewarding because of what performers learn when they talk with the audience post-show.

After their performance, freshmen Chardonnay Needler, Allison Zhang and Brandy Riziki interact with the residents.
(Photo used by permission of Zhang)
After their performance, freshmen Chardonnay Needler, Allison Zhang and Brandi Riziki interact with the residents.

“We performed two songs (on Oct. 11), (including) the Beatles song ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,’ a song about World War II,” she said.  “We were talking with people in the audience afterwards, and (there were men) who said they were a part of Company C in the war.

“Women said that they had husbands in the war, and I think there was one guy who was a Marine. All of these people have fascinating pasts if you’re willing to listen to them.”

Alvarado also enjoyed talking to the audience and watching their reaction.

“A lot of people really liked (the singing),” she said.

“There was this one man in the front row listening to another (Lifting Spirits with Music) group singing a song from the ’40s and ’50s. Looking at him, I (could tell) he was being transported back to the time of the song. He was smiling and gazing at the group, tapping his foot and nodding his head. It was really cool.”

Zhang experienced a similar reaction. “With older songs (like ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B’), the audience recognized (the lyrics),” she said.

“They would dance or mouth the words. It relates to (the people) when they know the music.”

The songs performed at Carlton Plaza were “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and “Don’t Stop Believing,” chosen by Alvarado.

Despite successful performances, there were also difficulties faced while practicing and performing.

“I ended up improvising with the music a lot,” Needler said. “When I arrived at Eskaton, I found out that I had a solo part that I didn’t know about.

“Gabi told me about it, but I didn’t realize I was supposed to do it until the performance day. Thankfully I’m good at improvising, so there wasn’t really a problem.”

Alvarado said that scheduling practices is also difficult.

“Scheduling is incredibly hard, because people aren’t available at the same time (to practice),” she said.

The group plans to sing again with Lifting Spirits with Music on Dec. 13.

“I hope the choir group will be able to grow (with time),” Zhang said. “I’m excited for its future.”

—By Mohini Rye

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