With all the music in the air in New Orleans, it isn’t unusual for New Orleanians to burst into song.
“With kids, parents notice that they just start singing around the house,” says Cheryl Dupont, the Executive and Artistic Director of the New Orleans Children’s Chorus. She has something to offer those young people. “Why? It’s for self-expression,” she says. “A choir is a group activity that’s fun – I think it’s more fun than singing by yourself.”
As Dupont says, “It’s for kids who want to sing. We teach them and we have several choirs.”
With undergraduate and graduate degrees in music and after a career as a high school choral director (at Benjamin Franklin and Brother Martin High Schools), Dupont is still singing as a member of the New Orleans Vocal Arts Chorale. “I’m a charter member, and we’re a group of music professionals with amateurs who sing at a high level; we perform in four concerts a year.”
Pastor Andrew Amedee began his own career by singing as a child. “As a little kid, I started singing in the choir. My grandmother saw something in me that nobody else saw – she had someone from Werlein’s come every week, and in six months I was playing the organ and leading the choir.”
Amedee went on to get a degree in music at Southern University (with his first two years at Dillard) and, he explains, “not only am I a pastor, I’ve been singing and preaching and praying for a long time.” Now ministering at the Cosmopolitan Evangelistic Baptist Church on Bienville Street in Tremé, “I play and direct the choir, then I get up and preach,” Amedee explains. “If God has blessed you with a talent, don’t be selfish with it. Use it!”
Mary Lee Burke, another veteran church singer, was a member of the St. Louis Cathedral Choir. “We were trained by Elise Cambon – she had beautiful taste in music and we loved the music that we sang.” Now, she uses her voice with the Laetare Singers (laetare is Latin for rejoice). “We sing at the fund raiser at St. Alphonsus every Christmas; we sing Christmas carols and invite the audience to sing with us.” She always looks for recruits: “If you don’t have a wiggle in your voice and you can stay on pitch, we’d love to have you come sing!”
Singer Cristina Perez has a new baby, “I haven’t gone back to singing yet, but I hope to do so soon,” she says. Meanwhile, she’s building her repertoire “My go-to is Ella Fitzgerald, but lately I’m listening to Nancy Wilson.” For almost four years she was a Victory Belle at The National World War II Museum, “Just getting to meet all the vets was such a treat – it was really a unique experience.” A New Orleans native, she moved to Florida for high school but came back to study music at Loyola University and married fellow musician Chris Edmunds. She has a new album, “It’s The Sweetest Thing – all original tunes that I wrote last year.” You can see her video at Facebook.com/cristinaperezmusic.
Laura Stanfel, a Tulane senior from Denver, Colorado who intends to go to medical school, admits “I have probably been singing since I could talk.” After she enjoyed choir in middle school, her parents gave her classical voice lessons through high school. “As soon as I got to college I knew I wanted to join an a cappella group.” Singers with no band, a cappella groups were celebrated in the Pitch Perfect movies (both shot in Louisiana).
TULA (Tulane Ladies A Cappella) sings “some classic rock, plus contemporary stuff. Our main goal is to empower the female voice.” Where do they get their arrangements?
“Sometimes we do an arrangement swap with another group, and a couple of girls in the group are good arrangers,” Stanfel says. Tulane has two other a cappella groups, Green Envy and THEM, so there are some joint performances.
TULA’s final concert this year had a “music festival theme – we were in 1960s outfits with flowers.”
As for Stanfel’s singing opportunities after graduation? “I know a lot of medical schools have a capella groups – it’s one of my favorite extracurricular activities!”