Building Community: Singing the Praises of the Girls Choral Academy

“When I’m sad I sing, and then others can be sad with me,” quipped humorist Mark Twain about sharing his feelings. Alternatively — for many of us — singing brings happiness. And for the members of the Girls Choral Academy, singing not only creates joy, it also changes their lives.   

For over twenty years, the Girls Choral Academy (GCA) in Grand Rapids, has provided musical education that enriches the lives of young vocalists in ways beyond simply learning to sing. GCA helps participants boost their self-confidence, make new friends and build a positive self-image. 

“Our girls share their passion together, create a positive sense of themselves as singers and grow into stronger young women,” GCA executive director Lisa Knight says.

Students and their families are quick to sing the praises of the Academy. One participant describes: 

“My daughter joined GCA in the fall of 2019 and is still excited to come to every rehearsal. She went through a lot emotionally when our family went through divorce, and recently it has been challenging dealing with the pandemic. Through it all, the GCA has created an environment that is warm and welcoming; it’s a different atmosphere — there’s always something new to do or learn. 

“My daughter has always been eager to learn, but I feel like GCA has opened up a whole new part of her, giving her confidence and self-awareness that I haven’t seen in her before. She used to be very shy and now she’ll come home and tell me about conversations she’s had with girls who are older than her, whom she respects, as well as new friends her age. She loves to sing and has learned new skills like playing the piano during her classes at the GCA. The Girls Choral Academy has helped my daughter become more open and more confident — and that makes us both happy!”

GCA provides a safe, nurturing space for girls of all races, religions and socioeconomic status to experience the transforming power of music. As they accomplish goals during their musical education, the girls progress toward a more positive self-image. Experiences like delivering a successful performance after having overcome stage fright can boost self-confidence and create poise in front of future audiences.

The programming includes diligent instruction and exposure to a variety of musical arts. In addition to education, the GCA provides several services to its members, such as performing, travel opportunities, philanthropic endeavors and social events. 

GCA’s Campus Choirs program is for girls in first through 12th grade. In addition to learning self-confidence, the girls learn musical excellence, effective leadership and cultural diversity. Rehearsals take place September through May and are broken up into three sessions. 

Open enrollment for GCA takes place each August for the following fall. Rehearsals take place in the basement of First United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids. 

The Campus Choirs program is tuition-based; however, the GCA will never turn a family away due to financial circumstances, and offers scholarships for girls who cannot afford to participate. 

Another program, the Grandville Avenue Girls Choir, serves third- through fifth-grade girls in Grand Rapids, at Buchanan Elementary School, Caesar E. Chavez Elementary School and Southwest Academy-Bilingual. Formed in 1999, the program emphasizes vocal music in a positive atmosphere, with a varied repertoire that includes Hispanic folk songs, jazz and gospel tunes. 

These students attend rehearsal once a week, have two major concerts and several small performances throughout the season. Several times a year they go on special outings, such as visiting local colleges and traveling to Chicago.

Each fall, the GCA hosts its major benefit dinner around mid-November. The 2023 event, entitled “Let Their Voice Be Heard,” honored West Michigan jazz great Edye Evans Hyde — who has been making music for 40 years — with GCA’s “Giving Girls a Voice” award. 

In addition to the annual fundraising event, donations are always welcome and directly support diverse creative endeavors for the young singers. For example, $100 buys sheet music for five girls, and $1,000 grants a scholarship for an entire year. More information on events and how you can donate to GCA can be found at GirlsChoralAcademy.org.