Candy is sweet and flowers are nice, but Young Singers of Orange County has a better idea this February 14: Vocals for Valentine’s Day.
That’s the immediate goal of the nonprofit youth choir based in Newport Beach. They have a plan to create personalized singing Valentine greetings as well as create a virtual music video to send to senior centers post on their website.
There is one obstacle: YSOC needs more young singers, and fast.
Since it’s inception in 2009, YSOC has held weekly in-person rehearsals and regularly performs at community events, including the Balboa Island Tree Lighting and Relay for Life, as well as retirement communities and assisted living facilities.
That all came to a sudden halt last March, when the choir had to suspend rehearsals and performances.
“Once we realized that Covid was not just a short-term thing, we cancelled the in-person rehearsals immediately and were waiting to see what would happen,” recalled YSOC Founder and President Samantha Smith, who formed the group when she was in high school. “We hoped things would be back to normal by summer, or at least by fall, but in September we realized we were not going back to normal rehearsals and community performances.”
Like many other organizations, YSOC shifted to on-line instruction, but the pause from March to September made it difficult to reconnect with choir members, who range in age from 5 to 14.
“We lost momentum so it was harder to bring everyone back,” recalled Smith. “There was a long delay, too much time had passed. We have had to start over again with recruiting members.”
Fortunately, any child between 5 and 14 is eligible to join the choir—no experience necessary. And now that the choir has gone virtual, YSOC is accepting members from anywhere in the U.S.
Smith created the choir as her senior project in high school—a project that grew into a full-time nonprofit choir for elementary and junior high school students with the aim of inspiring appreciation of the arts and a love of singing, learning music theory, increase children’s team building skills, performance skills, and self-confidence, and inspire children to engage in community-service related activities while educating them about the importance of giving back to our community.
After high school, Smith – a singer-songwriter who performs and records as Sam Avalon – went on to study as Vassar College and is currently the Director of the Japanese Ashinaga Foundation in Paris. Smith continues to serve as President of YSOC, and is in regular communication with her team and the Board of Directors. Her sister, Sophie Smith McCoy, lives in Orange County and is the YSOC Choir Manager.
In essence, said Smith, YSOC provides an experience in music which is both educational and fun. Singers have the opportunity to learn, perform and give back.
“That’s the point—to teach kids how to sing but also skills they can use at any age, at any level, to have a possible impact on other people and play a role to better their community,” explained Smith. “Even if they are five years old and have nothing to offer but their voice and their enthusiasm.”
Smith admits it’s not as much fun or exciting for kids to participate in YSOC online, but “now more than ever we need something like YSOC for kids,” stated Smith. “Kids can still learn and have a sense of progress and a sense of community even though it’s virtual.”
Smith said her new idea is to reboot engagement in the community with initiatives surrounding Valentine’s Day.
“Our young singers are learning the song ‘L-O-V-E’ through online rehearsals, they’re going to record themselves singing it, and then we’ll compile it into a complete video chorus,” said Smith. “Fortunately we have young instructors who know how to do that—they’re tech savvy. So instead of doing a live, in-person performance, we can still send this video to senior care facilities, and the seniors can even have a live exchange with students online.”
Smith said YSOC can also customize a video greeting for Valentine’s Day and send it to loved ones in exchange for donations of $1 to $5. These are available to purchase through the YSOC website and Facebook page.
The choir members will also be creating Valentines to be dropped of at the senor centers for their residents.
“We want to get enough students signed up before Valentine’s Day so they can be part of it, and also its motivating to have a performance to work toward,” said Smith.
The cost to participate in YSOC is normally $150 per school year, although the group is waving the fees for the foreseeable future while the rehearsals are still online via Zoom.