One Voice Children’s Choir
Utah’s Sound of Music
It’s the night of a big fundraising gala. A garage big enough to hold an average-sized home serves as the green room for One Voice Children’s Choir. It’s attached to a mansion and filled with dozens of young singers, sharply dressed and practicing pitch with nervous energy.
“They can’t stop singing,” says Masa Fukuda, One Voice Children’s Choir founder and musical director. “It’s an a cappella party with 80 kids hanging in here. We have 15 brand new kids who didn’t have any friends and they were quickly integrated. I love that about this choir.”
One Voice Children’s Choir was created for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The connections made among the group grew beyond the arena of worldwide athletes, and the choir continued by becoming a nonprofit in 2005.
At the gala in Spanish Fork, Utah, Amilya Wyss is one of the performers. She started singing with the choir when she was 7. Now she’s 15.
“My favorite thing about being in the choir is connecting with people inside the choir and outside the choir,” she says. “Choir practice is fun, but performances are when we get to see the magic happen.”
Tonight’s magic is an event raising money for abused women who retreat to the mansion to heal. It’s a sensitive scene — one the kids are aware of as they settle down, leave the garage and enter the garden to sing.
“The garage pathway leads to a huge backyard,” Fukuda says. “The trees are lit, and we have a whole mountain as our backdrop. It’s beautiful. The kids love the energy. They love the response from the audience. People who can donate to such a cause are top executives and here they are in tears.”
Sharing emotion through song is the choir’s purpose.
“Our mission is not to impress the world,” Fukuda says. “It’s to bless the world. People get something from our kids that goes beyond words. We could be hitting every note right and singing all the words right, but if our hearts are not in it, that defeats the whole purpose of why we’re doing this in the first place.”
Fukuda looks for heart during tryouts. The choir, which in 2014 competed on the show “America’s Got Talent,” caps at 150 singers ages 4 to 18. About 20 kids age out annually and around 350 new singers audition to replace them. There’s no messing around with this opportunity. Singers must do more than carry a solid tune. They have to make audiences feel good. That extra qualification is subtle, but important.
“I hate tryouts with a passion because the odds aren’t very good for that many kids,” Fukuda says. “Children with the most gorgeous voices may not necessarily make the cut. We’re looking for sincerity.”
And commitment. Parents are interviewed during tryouts. Amilya’s sister was already in the choir when she tried out, so Fukuda knew her family understood the commitment.
“I have so many friends in choir, and I love being in it,” Amilya says. “I will really miss it when I graduate. I’m much more rounded as a person because of choir. It’s taught me how to deal with stressful situations. It’s also taught me patience and to be kind even when it’s hard.”
That kindness comes through in every song at every performance, pulling smiles and tears from all who hear the choir sing, whether on a TV studio stage or at an intimate backyard gala.
“We know we’re touching lives and causing people to do good,” Fukuda says. “We move others to action so they’ll pay it forward and bless other lives.”