For the past 26 years a nonprofit youth performing group called Maryland Sings has been belting out songs and dancing their way locally and around the globe.
Under the tutelage of Dr. Bill Myers, these young people have dedicated every Saturday to practicing their craft; some have gone on to perform on Broadway, and one talented young girl even got to sing on stage with Shania Twain when the performer came to Baltimore.
Throughout the years, the group of youths, ages 10 to 18, has toured Europe, participated in international competitions, traveled to northern Canada, performed for local events and recently sang the national anthem at the House of Delegates in Annapolis.
On Saturday, April 29, Maryland Sings will hold its annual fundraiser, "Broadway on Main" with the hopes of raising enough money to keep the operation going for another year.
The ensemble consists of three groups: Stage Three, Escape and Broadway Kids. Their forte and focus are popular music such as songs by Adele, and as the name suggests, Broadway fare. In order to join the group, the kids (they must be at least 9 years old) first have to audition, and if accepted, dedicate themselves to hard work.
Age and skill level are considered in placing the chidren in the groups. At first, the focus with the youngsters is on vocal development, pitch, breath control and understanding the purpose of music and movement on stage. As the children progress and age, a greater emphasis is placed on interpretation of lyrics.
Maryland Sings tuition is $400 a semester, and parents volunteer their time in helping the kids reach their potential. Each group has a limit of 10 participants, and currently there are 16 members total. Myers hopes to reach the maximum of 30 in the fall.
"We need to raise money just to keep the doors open," he said.
The children in the program take part in anywhere from two to eight free performances a semester.
Susan Connelly, 41, is the parent of one of the youngest members and a group mom. Her daughter, Katie, 10, has always had a passion for singing, and had been involved in other local children's choral groups. She said there is a strong emphasis on professionalism, and she sees the kids acquire attributes such as poise and confidence as members of Maryland Sings.
"These will carry on into other aspects of their life," she said.
"He makes us put in the hard work," said group member Brooke Nixon, 16, a junior at Maryvale Preparatory School, "but he wants us to succeed. In the end, it's totally worth it, and it's helped me develop a stage presence." Nixon said she wants to minor in musical theater in college.
Parent Natalie Peters said her daughter, Alyssa, 13, joined three years ago and loves being a part of the ensemble. "Dr. Myers is strict, but the kids love it," she said. "He has a vision in his head, and it's amazing to see it come to life."
Myers has an impressive musical résumé of his own. He is currently the director of music ministry at the Reisterstown United Methodist Church, where the group practices every Saturday. Myers was also the performing arts chairman at Dulaney High School for 23 years before retiring in 1992.
A year before his retirement he wanted to get out of the classroom and work with gifted young people, he said. Not one to squander his gift of music, and too energetic to retire permanently, he formed Maryland Sings in 1991 with 15 singers from the choir at Dulaney.
He is quite proud of the three gold, two silver and four bronze medals the ensemble has won in previous years in international competitions. In 1992, Myers took a group of 27 members Europe, where they performed at festivals in the small towns and villages throughout the continent.
Myers said he would like to arrange another European tour in the next two years, but said about $50,000 would have to raised to reach the goal. It would require a lot of fundraisers and, he said, hopefully some grants to achieve this.
Myers cited his luck in having studied with the esteemed choral and orchestral conductor, Robert Shaw, who died in 1991. Myers also has performed in many concerts, venues and festivals himself.
"God has blessed me with some gifts that astound even me," he said. "I am able to take a piece of music apart and rebuild it."
Myers is someone who thrives on learning and absorbing what others teach. He attends vocal workshops and after studying with other conductors, arrangers and composers, he brings back his newly gained knowledge to his ensemble in the Baltimore area.
They say it takes a village, and Myers is eager to credit his supporters. Nancy Grasmick, former Maryland state schools superintendent, and her late husband, Louis Grasmick, advocated for Myers and helped him get his nascent group off the ground.
"Nancy believed in education," he said. "She believed in what I was doing."
He also praises his wife, Hollie, for helping to keep the group going and with keeping costs down so the tuition is affordable.
"She believes in my gifts," he said of his wife. "We are giving back."
What: "Broadway on Main" dessert theater fundraiser
When: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday, April 29, 2017
Where: Reisterstown United Methodist Church, 246 Main St., Reisterstown
How much: Tickets: $20; $10 for ages 14 and younger