Orlando Gay Chorus launches Voices United! Orlando youth camp

By : Billy Manes
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ORLANDO – For one week, everyone was a star, or at least a star in the making.

In an unexpected move, the Orlando Gay Chorus—with help from a grant from Disney—launched a chorus camp called Voices United! Orlando, a choir camp intended to raise voices to their perfect pitch, all while having fun. From June 5-9, 22 kids of middle-school age came together for a week of bass and treble, alto and soprano, all leading to a final performance that Friday.

It wasn’t an easy start, OGC Artistic Director James Rode says. For one, summer camps are an industry unto themselves. Though the group expected that marketing should start after spring break, it quickly learned that most summer camps are booked earlier in the year, if not the year before.

“The board said we’d like to do some kind of chorus camp,” Rode recalls. “I was like, ‘You have no idea how hard this is going to be.’”

It wasn’t terribly hard, though. Though Rode, a chorus teacher himself, said there was some blowback from the community of chorus teachers with whom he communicated. They wanted the Orlando Gay Chorus logo removed from the promotional materials in fear that it would scare off parents. Did he relent?

“No,” he says. “We were not going to take OGC’s name off the poster. I knew that the ‘gay’ on the poster would turn some parents away. So when I reached out to some chorus teachers, parents were like ‘we don’t want to do something with a gay chorus.’”

He says the name remains the same, as do the literature and the liability forms parents must sign: This is an Orlando Gay Chorus function. But it’s also serving a larger purpose, as evidenced by the Disney grant and the generous donation of a website from Full Sail University. Because of the grant, 15 of the 22 enrollees were able to attend the camp for free. But even at $125 for the full week—lunches included—the soon-to-be-annual event isn’t cost prohibitive.

The camp’s goals are buffeted by the involvement of two voice coaches and one All-State Chorus vocal representative. The camp convened from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. throughout the week at First United Church of Christ on Curry Ford Road, and, according to its website, students were put through numerous workshops, from upper/lower sectionals to “music jeopardy.” There were also camp-regulars like sack races and eggs on spoons.

“They really spent all the money on the kids,” said Kathleen Voss Woolrich, whose 12-year-old daughter attended. “They got amazing sheet music. She’s never thirsty; she’s never hungry. People are very generous. I can’t imagine not having done this.”

But it’s not all serious faces and auditions and callbacks. It’s about celebrating unknown talent and singing the summer away.

“These kids are crazy,” Rode says. “They are so loud. But they sing so well already.”

For more information, go to voicesunitedorlando.com.

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