IOWA CITY — High-pitched voices and giggles echo in the gymnasium as the girls enter the room. A few sit quietly on the floor, but most run around.
Watching the activity, it’s hard to believe these are the girls who sang “God Bless America” with such power just hours before at Van Allen Elementary School.
“The singers we have are so strong,” Beth Ackerson says. “They’re just incredible.”
Ackerson, co-director of the Iowa City Girls Choir, moves to the center of the gym as Vicki Arnold, also co-director, takes a seat at the piano. The girls find their places in the three rows in front of Ackerson and, after a few exercises to warm up their voices, rehearsal begins.
The next 90 minutes are a medley of songs as the girls work on their annunciation of “Old Sue’s Panda” — a parody of “Oh! Susanna” — and rehearse the choreography for “Appalachian Dances.”
While most of the girls in the group are students in the Iowa City school district’s elementary schools, and both Ackerson and Arnold are music teachers in the district, the Iowa City Girls Choir isn’t a district choir.
The choir was founded in 1975 by Paul Schroeder and Sam Reese, two general music teachers, who wanted to meet the needs of elementary girls who love singing.
“The elementary schools have orchestra and they have band, but they have nothing for the girls who want to sing,” says Arnold, who first joined the choir as an accompanist.
The choir has had several directors in the past 36 years — Arnold became a director after Schroeder and Reese moved on — but its purpose hasn’t changed.
“This is just a pure choral experience,” says Ackerson, who is finishing her third year with the choir.
The girls learn to read music and perform basic choreography. Divided into two groups — blue and red — choir members take turns singing the melody and harmony parts of songs.
The choir is open to fourth- through sixth-grade girls in the Iowa City area. Auditions are held at the beginning of the school year, with the girls selected for the choir attending rehearsals every Tuesday at Mark Twain Elementary School.
The choir performs two concerts every year, plus the spring school tour. During this tour, the choir performs at several Iowa City school district elementary schools.
“The tour was really fun because we got to see people’s reactions to what we sounded like,” says Sally Fauchier, 12, a sixth-grader at Van Allen in North Liberty.
This year, a select number of girls were selected to sing in the Nolte Academy of Dance’s performance of “The Nutcracker” at The Englert Theatre.
“You get to meet new friends and the songs are a lot of fun,” says Aubree Klink, 10, a fifth-grader at Garner Elementary School in North Liberty.
Emma Brustkern, a sixth-grader at Garner, tried out for the choir because she loves music.
“The best part has been meeting different people who like to sing because there aren’t as many singers at my school,” Emma, 11, says.
Despite the enthusiasm from those in the choir, Arnold says the group is struggling to remain on the public’s radar.
In years past, the choir has performed in “Cocoa and Carols” with the Old Gold Singers, but the Floods of 2008 limited performances that were held at Hancher Auditorium. At the same time, the economy has forced families to re-evaluate extracurricular activity costs.
The Iowa City Girls Choir is 100 percent funded by membership fees. Three years ago, the choir had 100 members. This year, there are 54 girls, but both Arnold and Ackerson say their singing is just as strong as when the group was larger, if not greater.
“They sound like a junior high choir,” Ackerson says. “This is a talented group.”
Sierra Egan, 10, attends rehearsal after soccer practice. She says doing both in one evening makes Tuesdays busy, but she loves singing too much not to be part of the choir.
“I want to be a singer when I grow up,” Sierra, a fifth-grader at Lucas Elementary School in Iowa City, says. “Since being in choir, it’s easier for me to sing higher and I can hold a note longer.”
Iowa City Girls Choir Spring Concert:
The Iowa City Girls Choir will have their final performance, a spring concert for family and friends, at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City at 6:30 p.m. on May 8.