In the otherwise empty Sinex Theatre at Roland Park Country School, 10 middle-school students gathered around a piano onstage Friday to sing "Astonishing," a song from the Broadway musical "Little Women."
The girls, members of a mostly a capella group called The 8th Grade Singers, were rehearsing for a set they will perform on Saturday at the Inaugural Festival, a choral festival in Washington in conjunction with the inauguration of President Barack Obama on Monday, Jan. 21.
The performance is part of an extended weekend, in which the girls will tour monuments and museums, and attend a ball for all the students who perform.
The school has also arranged for the girls to witness the inauguration with its public swearing-in ceremony.
"It's such a privilege. It's once in a lifetime," said Rebecca Mathew, of Ellicott City.
"It's nice to say you saw the president, even if it's 2 miles away," said Charlotte Kim, of Guilford.
For the rehearsal, the students wore "spirit scarves" that the pianist, middle-school music director Wanda Waller, made for the upcoming performance.
"They're like the song, astonishing," said Marq Hayes, of Parkville.
The 8th Grade Singers are among dozens of singing groups of all ages, sizes and musical styles that Worldstrides Heritage Performance Programs chose to sing at the festival.
A panel of nationally known judges will critique each performance and offer advice to the students.
The Roland Park group is the youngest and smallest scheduled to perform Saturday morning, Waller said.
Performances will be at various venues, with Roland Park Country's singers performing at the Washington Christian Church, said Waller, who will accompany the group to Washington.
Waller said the 8th Grade Singers date to before she came to Roland Park Country about 14 years ago. The auditioned group requires students to try out in the spring of seventh grade.
They get class credit and sing in special events, such as the school's winter concert, and perform for area seniors, among other groups. The last several years, they have sung the national anthem at Baltimore Orioles games.
"We actually take what we do seriously," Hayes said.
"I've always wanted to be in the music business," said Savannah Emge, of Reisterstown.
Cache Taylor, of York, Pa., was more blunt.
"I want to be a singer," she said.
Not everyone in the group aspired to be a singer or musician.
"I want to be an NFL coach," said Lexie Orlinsky, of Guilford. "I'll sing the national anthem " at games.
The "Star Spangled Banner "is one of the three songs the group plans to sing, and they rehearsed it with a complicated arrangement, ending with Taylor hitting a high note.
Courtney Wolf, of Lutherville, considers singing a capella as good training, because without piano or other musical accompaniment, "It's really hard to stay on pitch, so it trains your voice," she said.
Near the end of the rehearsal, Wolf disappeared for a minute. She returned with an acoustic guitar to lead the group in a song they won't be singing in Washington, "Home," by the singer-songwriter Phillip Phillips.
For Hayes, the song was fitting because as much as anything, being in the group is a bonding experience.
"It's like our home away from home," she said.