Steamboat Springs With 15 minutes left in the group's Monday afternoon rehearsal, the 12 members of the Steamboat Springs Youth Choir were singing at the top of their lungs.
Choir director Keri Rusthoi asks the group of 6- to 12-year-olds to stand up and scoot together for one last run-through of the song they've been rehearsing. Even when the students don't know all the words, they sing with enthusiasm.
After a hiatus, Rusthoi is back to directing the youth chorus, which falls under the outreach umbrella of Emerald City Opera, the performing organization Rusthoi founded. She hopes the choir gives students an opportunity to express themselves, as well as provide some vocal training and ensemble discipline.
"I think everybody loves to sing, especially kids, when they're not yet too freaked out," Rusthoi said. "Singing is so unbelievably scary because you really have to put yourself out there, and kids aren't scared yet."
The group rehearses for just more than an hour every Monday afternoon, in preparation for a series of potential concert dates starting during the holiday season. Talaya Thomas, whose daughter Maya sings with the youth choir, said the ensemble gives some attention to a child's creative side.
"I think she just really enjoys singing," Thomas said. "Being in Steamboat Springs, Colo., it's such an outdoor, biking, skiing place, and to find something else that caters to kids who happen to be more creative adds something to the community."
Few of the choir members have any previous vocal training, Rusthoi said, so she tries to maintain a low-pressure atmosphere in rehearsals. Paying attention to breath support and staying together as a group, Rusthoi doesn't worry too much about everyone hitting every note in perfect pitch on a song's first run-through.
"They get exposure to rhythm, they get exposure to harmonies, and they get the opportunity to sing in public, which everyone should do," she said. Among possible performance opportunities are opening for Colorado Mountain College's community "Messiah" sing-along in December, and adding children's choir to the college's production of Carl Orff's classic cantata, "Carmina Burana." Rusthoi said she hopes providing performance opportunities and basic ensemble training will offer a mode of expression for youth choir participants.
"If a person doesn't have a creative outlet, I'd be afraid for who they are," she said. "Everyone should do something creative, because we are, at our core, all creative people."