ALTON - A new choir festival in Alton provided a fun experience for young singers.

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From June 3–8, 2024, middle school and high school students from around the Riverbend region came together to participate in the Riverbend Youth Chorale, a new choir camp created by Spencer Domer and Eddie Hitchcock. Domer explained that they wanted to help students make music, meet new people and enjoy themselves.

“We wanted to offer something that’s three hours long for a full week that the kids go into smiling, leave smiling and say, ‘Hey, we made some cool music today,’” Domer said. “It was a very successful first year.”

Over 40 students from school districts around the Riverbend participated in the Riverbend Youth Chorale’s inaugural festival. The program was rigorous, with daily sight reading challenges, music literacy sessions and more. Guest adjudicators Michael Engelhardt and Raynard Brown also provided additional music education.

But Domer noted that all of the students seemed to enjoy the intensity of the festival. He talked with students every day and asked them what they thought of the experience. After the sold-out finale concert on June 8, all 46 kids agreed that they would be signing up again next year.

“It was very intense and it kind of fueled some musical drive,” Domer explained. “Every day, I think the biggest thing that I wanted to go for was having their voices be heard…A lot of it was just oriented towards their experience, and the wild response that we’ve gotten back from them was they enjoyed how active they were.”

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Many students also expressed how much they enjoyed meeting kids from other school districts. Domer noted that this was another important aspect of the Riverbend Youth Chorale experience.

As a high school student, Domer himself was involved in various choirs and activities that no longer exist in the Riverbend area after the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that he gained a lot from these experiences, and he wanted to reintroduce a multi-district choir to local students so they could build friendships while producing great music.

Hitchcock previously directed an ensemble that Domer sang in as a high school student, and they’ve remained close friends as Domer went on to receive degrees in voice performance and choral conducting. Both men hope that the Riverbend Youth Chorale can provide today’s students with those same experiences.

“That level of community-building really kind of needs to be reimplemented to our area,” Domer said. “There’s definitely a space for it. We wouldn’t have had 46 kids if there wasn’t a need to say, ‘Hey, go meet friends and make cool music.’ So that’s kind of really what our goal has been, that no matter a student’s literacy level or education or music experience, they should still be able to learn everything and experience excellent music.”

With these goals in mind, Domer and Hitchcock look forward to next year. The Riverbend Youth Chorale was recently named a nonprofit organization. In the future, the two men hope to potentially introduce quarterly or biannual sessions with elementary students included. They have big plans for the Riverbend Youth Chorale, made bigger after their first year went off without a hitch.

“It was a real blessing,” Domer added. “It’s kind of an overall vocal and community-based ensemble event — not really geared at making the most excellent, but making the most fun and excellent music. We’ll have an elementary and middle school and a high school session for students of all ages, abilities and levels to make cool music.”

For more information about the Riverbend Youth Chorale, visit their official Facebook page.

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