Curtain to rise on Portland-area girls' chorus

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NORTH YARMOUTH — When Ann Dillon stepped down in 2011 after 13 years as executive director of the Wescustago Youth Chorale, it didn’t take long for her to miss conducting.

“I was saying to friends, ‘I know I have another choir in me,'” the North Yarmouth resident recalled Saturday.

She wasn’t going to look for it, but rather waited for something to come to her. And in March, a month after Dillon underwent back surgery, something did – the Maine Girls Chorus, which holds its debut performance in Portland next month.

The Maine Girls Academy in March asked her and Kitty Beller-McKenna, director of Portland-based Women in Harmony, to form a community chorus composed of high school girls from around Greater Portland.

“I said, sure,” Dillon recalled. “This was just right up my alley.”

The two women had auditioned a group of students when, this summer, the academy – which was to provide free rehearsal and performance space – announced its closure.

Undaunted, Dillon and Beller-McKenna chose to proceed with the chorus on their own as a junior version of Women in Harmony.

“We were psyched to keep going,” Dillon said.

The chorus has nine founding members from various high schools, and seeks to expand its ranks through auditions at St. Ansgar’s Church, 515 Woodford St. in Portland, from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, and 5:30-8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14.

“They’re small but mighty,” Dillon said of the current lineup. “They’re all really talented girls.”

Rehearsals take place every Thursday at the church from 6:30-8:30 p.m. The chorus’ debut concert will be held at the church at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10, and the newly-chosen singers begin rehearsing Jan. 24, with their first performance May 9.

To sign up for an audition, contact Dillon at annie.dillon1@gmail.com or Beller-McKenna at kbmck@comcast.net. Log onto choralconnection.org, and click on Maine Girls Chorus for more information.

Participation is only limited by how far one is willing to drive. The chorus has members from as far north as Hallowell, down to Wells and Kennebunk, Dillon said. Participants also hail from Falmouth, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

Dillon credited the community aspect of the group as part of what’s drawing members from an hour away.

“We’ve talked to them about wanting to create a community of affirmation, of people who learn how to treat each other more nicely than some parts of the world,” she said.

“These are girls that … love singing in their school choruses, but they’re looking for more opportunities to sing,” Dillon added.

The repertoire offers a mix of classical and contemporary songs, all with a common theme.

“We want there to be positive messages that the girls can relate to, and help build their self-esteem as strong girls,” Dillon said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Kitty Beller-McKenna, left, and Ann Dillon are co-founders of the Maine Girls Chorus, which holds its debut performance in Portland next month.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.