House Representative Craig Lipscomb introduces regional vocalist program Gadsden Youth Chorus

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Pictured, from left, Alabama House District 30 Representative Craig Lipscomb, Gadsden Youth Chorus Director Gina Garmon, Chorus program assistant Corey Butts and Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts Executive Director Tom Banks welcome students to participate in the new vocalist program, Gadsden Youth Chorus.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

On Monday, August 9, Alabama House District 30 Representative Craig Lipscomb announced the creation of a new program designed to foster musical artistry for middle school and high school students throughout the region.

While the Etowah Youth Orchestras provides local and surrounding students with musical and educational experiences via development, training and performance opportunities, Lipscomb’s new collaborative program – coined the Gadsden Youth Chorus – will do the same, with vocalists as its focus.

Lipscomb’s appreciation for the arts spans back to his high school years, when he participated in a small concert band with fewer than a dozen members. Though he felt fortunate for his experiences, due to the small size of his school, he did not have the opportunity to enjoy the comradery of a large group of instrumentalists. However, when the Etowah Youth Orchestras formed in 1990, Lipscomb’s luck changed. Lipscomb soon became involved with EYO, which he considers a turning point in his life that lead to an instrumental scholarship in college, where he furthered his education and obtained a degree in architecture. Later, his professional career sparked his political role as legislator, something he traces back to a singular turning point in life.

“I’m sure there are a lot of components that led to me being where I am today, but I think if you look back, you can point to the EYO,” said Lipscomb. “Because the Center for Cultural Arts was founded and created the EYO, many of the opportunities I experience today were made possible [then].”

With a collection of concerts spanning nationwide at venues like New York City’s Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center and abroad at locations such as Manston and Stratford-Upon-Avon in England, earning prestigious recognition with numerous awards, the EYO program proves its worth.

“Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness, including intellectual, social, emotional, motor, language and overall literacy,” said Lipscomb. “It helps the body and mind work together. When we were young, we were taught music at church, in our children and youth choirs, but in this day and age, those have nearly disappeared.”

“Our community has always been known for producing musical talent. Much of this talent was developed in church and schools, but budget constraints and programmatic and stylistic changes have prevented students from having all of the opportunities they may have once had.”

While schools often offer instrumentalists band and choral programs to students interested in honing their musical skills, an opportunity similar to the EYO for vocalists did not previously exist. Inspired by his passion for EYO and the regional arts that flourish in his community, Lipscomb pursued an expansion of the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts’ efforts. He reached out to Gadsden City High School choir instructor Gina Garmon and Hardin Center Executive Director Tom Banks for their input on the project, to develop the Gadsden Youth Chorus. Alongside Lipscomb, Banks and Garmon, who will direct Gadsden Youth Chorus, Hardin Center Program Assistant Corey Butts will serve as the program’s administrator.

Similar to Lipscomb, Garmon’s passion for music ignited at an early age, under the leadership of (now Gadsden City High School Fine Arts Director) Paul Edmondson as her own choir director. After pursuing a musical education degree at Jacksonville State University, Garmon began sharing her passion with her students, nurturing their own admiration for music, personal interests and creative outlets. Garmon hopes that the Youth Chorus will be something the city and county can take pride in as a safe and fun environment where students can learn and develop their talents.

“It’s something I found I can make a contribution to, but it’s not just me,” said Garmon. “It’s everybody working together. It’s something I really think every person can benefit from. I feel very passionately about choir and vocal music, and while that’s our main focus, I want to instill in students a love for music – for them to be able to enjoy all types of music. This will be a very inclusive group. Anybody that wants to come be a part, encourage them to come to interest meetings and we’ll go from there.”

“We are so excited to launch this,” said Banks. “What a great experience for young people to help bring them together for something that’s going to teach them all kinds of life skills – and what a positive thing to show the community. We’ve talked about this for awhile, but it took Craig’s [Lipscomb] vision to get it going and get us all together. We’re very thankful for that. We’re glad to have the opportunity to preserve this art.”

Seventh through 12th grade students interested in participating in the Gadsden Youth Chorus are encouraged to attend interest meetings at the end of August. Both at the Center for Cultural Arts, the first will take place on August 26 at 6:30 p.m. and the second on August 28 at 10:30 a.m. The kick-off rehearsal is tentatively scheduled for September 9 at 6:30 p.m.

The annual year-long program will follow the students’ school year, contributing to their well-rounded education through introducing them to all genres of music.

Beginning in the fall, Garmon will welcome participants with popular musical arrangements as they work toward Christmas. During the winter months, she plans to educate students in classical music, then in the spring focus on pop and rock for a final concert. For its inaugural season, the Gadsden Youth Chorus is free for all involved.

Garmon and the Center for Cultural Arts are currently contacting schools in the region to jumpstart the recruitment process. Though students will receive information regarding the program from their schools, those with questions should contact the Center for Cultural Arts for more information or visit Gadsden Youth Chorus on Facebook.

“I am creating this Youth Chorus for the sake of our children and our music community,” said Lipscomb. “While it may have its beginnings with middle and high school students, my hope is that it grows in a manner to involve students of all ages. Then one day, these students will graduate and continue their studies in college, and perhaps professionally.”

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