It’s evident that Dr. Kerry Walters is interested in helping shape young voices-from grade school all the way through college. Walters juggles two jobs in the central Illinois vocal music arena: She’s associate professor of music at Bradley University and director of the Peoria Area Civic Chorale Youth Chorus (PACCYC).
Walters studied voice and piano during her high school years in suburban Oregon and then entered the music education program at the University of Oregon School of Music. "After graduation, I taught music to grades four through six in Scappoose, Ore., for seven years and completed a master’s degree in teaching at Portland State University during that time. During my master’s program, I began studying voice with a very fine teacher, Ruth Dobson, who encouraged me to re-visit singing as a career. It was through her guidance I learned about the Conservatory of Music at University of Cincinnati (CCM), which is one of the leading conservatories in the country for the training of professional singers. I auditioned and was awarded a tuition waiver scholarship and a graduate teaching assistantship."
She graduated from CCM with a doctor of musical arts in vocal performance, with a minor in choral conducting. Her time in Cincinnati was also spent branching out musically. "I was an active chorister and was among the founding members of the CCM Renaissance Consort, directed by Dr. Earl Rivers, head of ensembles and conducting."
Other musical adventures include singing with various ensembles at two national, three regional, and one state convention of the American Choral Directors Association; spending summers singing with Robert Shaw in south central France and with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale in New Mexico; and singing for 10 seasons with the Nova Singers, a professional choral ensemble based in Galesburg.
Walters is currently in her 15th year of teaching at Bradley. Her duties there include studio voice; directing the Bradley University Women’s Choir and Opera Workshop; and teaching courses in diction, vocal literature, and music education. She said while the work she does with the students at Bradley is gratifying, the variety of courses she teaches presents a challenge. "As a relatively small department, my colleagues and I must wear a number of different hats to provide the varied coursework needed for the degree programs we offer in music. Planning and preparing to teach each course is, of course, time-consuming. I feel a huge responsibility to each of my students to provide the necessary tools for each one to achieve his or her goals and be successful in the music industry."
She must be doing something right. "A number of my former Bradley students keep in touch and are pursuing professional singing and teaching careers in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and New Hampshire," she said.
Walters is new to the PACCYC, which was formed in 1986 under parent organization Peoria Area Civic Chorale. "The group is designed for unchanged voices in grades four to eight. We currently have a membership of 24 but hope to increase that number considerably next semester. The members come from all over the greater Peoria area including Morton, Metamora, East Peoria, Bartonville, Elmwood, and Washington."
Her responsibilities with the group include conducting auditions, rehearsals, and performances; selecting repertoire; recruiting; fiscal management; and acting as liaison between PACCYC and the PACC board of directors.
She said every participant must pass an audition, which usually take place every January and August. "During the audition, I look for musicianship skills such as note reading, music symbol recognition, and rhythmic accuracy. Of course, I’m also listening for tone quality, range, and intonation. Additionally, I’m looking for enthusiasm and a love of singing in each child. I always ask the singer why he or she would like to be a member of the group."
PACCYC performs one solo concert at the end of each semester, Walters said. "The Youth Chorus also sings on the PACC American Family Christmas and Mother’s Day concert performances at the Civic Center. The group has also sung with Opera Illinois-most recently in a production of Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel."
Walters said balancing her two jobs takes some planning. "I work diligently to make sure I’m not shortchanging my responsibilities at BU by working at home to plan rehearsals for PACCYC. I sometimes use the time before classes begin at BU and during my lunch hour as well."
Mentally shifting between the two age groups also takes some getting used to. "I relate well to both groups, but the challenge comes in the intensity level at which I can work with each. College students can concentrate for longer periods and can shift gears more quickly and easily than the younger children. An hour and a half per week is precious little rehearsal time with the Youth Chorus to prepare for a concert in just 16 weeks. Since this is my ’getting acquainted’ semester with the Youth Chorus, we’re still in the rapport-building stage of our work together. The kids are still getting to know me and I them. Half of the members are kids who had sung with the group under the previous director, and half were new to the group just as I was. Children sometimes have a hard time with change, but we’re beginning to gel as a choir, and we’re gradually finding our groove."
The primary and most immediate challenge of her work with PACCYC is to continue to get to know the singers and provide them with the best leadership and musical training possible within the time constraints of the weekly rehearsals. "Secondly, but no less important, is to develop a long-range plan for the group-one that will build the organization back up to its original membership of 50 or 60 singers. An organization such as this one has the potential to be a driving force in the musical education of children in the region. Above all, I want the children to have a good time making music together. I want them to be proud of what they can accomplish as a group."
Walters said the best aspect of each of her positions is the students she works with. "Both my college students and the members of the PACC Youth Chorus constantly challenge me to give them my best. In return, I receive so much satisfaction from them-their enthusiasm, diligence, and respect make all the hard work worthwhile." AA!