Portland Conservatory offers girls a chance to sing

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PORTLAND — A new option has emerged for girls looking for a music program that focuses on ensemble singing.

The Portland Conservatory of Music launched the Girl Singers of Maine about six months ago. The program features the Iris Ensemble, a group for girls in grades 9-12, the Bella Canta, a choir for girls in grades 5-8, and Skylarks, for girls in grades 2-4.

All three groups are under the direction of Maria Belva, who said “creating an excellent opportunity for young people to sing is what I love to do.”

Belva is a recent transplant to Maine who founded and directed a youth choir program for the past 21 years in Peterborough, New Hampshire called the Grand Monadnock Youth Choirs. 

She said there was a need for the Girl Singers of Maine after the long-running Musica de Filia program closed down in summer 2016.

Musica de Filia, founded by Jaye Churchill in 1997, may be best known for its most famous member, the actress and Deering High School alum Anna Kendrick, who was nominated for a Tony Award for the 1998 revival of “High Society” on Broadway.

Churchill’s goal with Musica de Filia was to “provide superb choral performance training to girls … (in a) warm, friendly environment, emphasizing poise, self-discipline and musical excellence,” according to the Maine Arts Commission website.

Belva said she has similar hopes for the Girl Singers of Maine and, in fact, Churchill, a long-time local piano and voice teacher and choir director, is now the accompanist for the Girl Singers program.

Belva described the Iris Ensemble as “a group of young women who love to sing,” adding “they are talented, focused, fine musicians, and fantastic singers.”

The group performed in concert in December and is planning another performance in May. In addition, Belva is working toward a concert tour of Italy in spring 2020.

She said the ensemble, which is modeled after the Musica de Filia chamber choir, performs mostly a cappella music, that’s “varied, engaging and wide-ranging.”

Along with the repertoire, which Belva said, “is primarily pieces written specifically for or arranged for women’s voices, we learn about musicianship, sing in various languages and many different styles, and ultimately we experience the joy and unique satisfaction of ensemble performance.”

Tuition for the Girl Singers of Maine is $200 per semester, but need-based scholarships are available. All three choirs require an audition and singers must be able to match pitch, Belva said.

“The audition process is very easy and non-stressful,” she said. Girls interested in trying out can text her at 603-924-2055 or send an email to mariabelva@gmail.com.

Rehearsals for the Iris Ensemble are held 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesdays at the Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. The ensemble currently has 15 members and Belva said she would love to see that increase.

She said the girls come from communities all across Southern Maine, including Portland, South Portland, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, Windham and Gorham, among others.

Overall, Belva said the Iris Ensemble is “a fantastic group of young women who … are friendly, musical, funny, and open.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Members of the Iris Ensemble, a new chamber choir for high school girls being offered by the Portland Conservatory of Music, under the direction of Maria Belva. In front row from left, Elena Parr, Nora Lane, Maya Chase, Emma Frothingham, Amelia Connor McCoy and Elizabeth Morrison. In the back row from left, Addison Littlefield, Emma Masse, Kaylin Brown, Kai Myers and Elowen Brunton. Missing are Isabella Eremita, Andrea Garcia, Caroline Fallona and Nina Chase.

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