If you hear music coming from Reisterstown United Methodist Church Saturday mornings, it's most likely the sound of rigorous rehearsals by the young members of Maryland Sings, a regional nonprofit musical ensemble based in Reisterstown. Recently, they've been preparing for their upcoming performance at the Town Mall in Westminster Oct. 20.
The show, which will feature musical selections in a range of genres, from pop to classic rock, will be held from 7 to 7:45 p.m.
But the group is offering much more than just a choral performance.
Members of Maryland Sings are selling $5 passes as part of Boscov's Friends Helping Friends initiative, which will give buyers the chance to earn savings of up to 25 percent at the Westminster Boscov's from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. that day. Plus, those who shop that day will also be able to benefit from door prizes, drawings and free refreshments at the store. All proceeds from the sale of the passes will benefit the nonprofit, and will go toward items such as a new soundboard, additional microphones and music.
"It's a win-win situation because we get to keep the money from selling the tickets and patrons will then be able to take the tickets with them and get [a discount] off of whatever they purchase," said Maryland Sings founder and instructor Dr. Bill Myers, of Glyndon.
This year, Myers is celebrating the group's 25th anniversary. Myers, a former choral and musical theater teacher at Dulaney Valley High School, started Maryland Sings in 1990 when he "just got tired of the box."
"I got tired of teaching in the classroom, that's all. I wanted to give more to gifted young people," he said.
He saw an opportunity to guide young people beyond the confines of school walls and he couldn't pass it up, he said.
"You see kids who are extremely gifted and if you have the ability to take them further, then you do so. I've always been taught that you give back and I wanted to work with extremely gifted kids and take them beyond, and it has happened and I'm so pleased about that," he said.
The ensemble is divided by age and ability into four groups: Maryland Singers, the youngest; Stage 3, Off Broadway Kids — OBK; and Escape.
"They can start as young as 9 and then they can progress through the different ensembles depending on their talent and ability … it's usually grade 6 through 12," said Shannon Mowl, an Escape representative.
The ensemble meets at Reisterstown United Methodist Church every Saturday over the course of two semesters. The director of music ministries at the church, Myers is given permission to use the space for Maryland Sings rehearsals as well.
"Usually our last performance is June 14, Flag Day, but then I lose them 'till late August. So we have two semesters — September through mid December and usually the last performance is at Kenilworth mall, our Christmas concert ... and then we start back mid January through June 14," Myers said.
But rehearsals don't just focus on musical training. He said his lessons incorporate the importance of work ethic, in addition to interviewing skills and how to carry oneself in public.
"[I'm] teaching them to be prompt and also I'm teaching them also how to interview for a job because we do improvisations and I pick a theme and off the top of their head they have to work with it and also I do a lot of auditioning in class … and so I will immediately talk with the individual in front of the rest of the class, whatever grouping they're in, and talk to them about what I've heard and what I've seen," he said.
Mowl's daughter, Madison, 15, is a member of Escape and has been with Maryland Sings for the past three years.
Mowl said Myers teaches kids "the total package," addressing questions such as, "How do you want to be perceived? How would you dress for an interview?"
The group also has the opportunity to travel and perform in different places around the world.
"Well we pretty much do things like we've done the National Aquarium; we've done Oriole Park, the national anthem; we have done private affairs. We have done Flag Day at Fort McHenry. We have done Dulaney Memorial Gardens Fallen Heroes [Day]. I believe in that kind of thing because our kids must learn that they are free because of what others have done for them … so that's a built-in part of our schedules every year. Three years ago we did northern Canada — we did a tour — it was arranged by another one of these groups that arranged tours for kids," Myers said.
Myers said he hopes to take the kids on a performance tour of Maryland next year, and back to Europe in 2017 — the group went there in 1992 and '94.
The group is by audition only, and individuals can find information and audition dates on the organization's website, www.marylandsings.org. Membership is $350 for tuition plus an additional $50 costume fee each semester.
Natalie Peters, of Eldersburg, said the cost is "absolutely" worth it for her 11-year-old daughter, Alyssa.
"Dr. Myers is a wonderful guy. He's very intense; he loves what he does … the kids, they respond to that. It's a very positive experience," she said.
And the experience is positive for the parents as well, she said.
"[There is] a lot of parent involvement, volunteer — everything's volunteer by the parents. Everybody works really well together and we have a lot of fun," she said.
Myers said he's tough on the kids but not without reason.
"There's a lot of discipline involved in this ensemble. I'm a hard man to please and the bar is raised consistently. And these guys just meet that bar every time. And so we are very careful with what they are learning and we make strong demands on them," he said.
Katie Espinoza, 11, is in her third semester with Maryland Sings. She said she wants to be "Elsa," from "Frozen," on Broadway when she gets older.
"Dr. Myers is very, very nice. He is extremely tough on all of us, even the youngest group that I'm in, but we know it's just tough love … and he just wants us to be the best that we can be and I think that's really nice of him," she said.
The ensemble, she said, is like "one big family."
"I like it for a couple reasons," she said. "One of the reasons is that I really like the challenge that Dr. Myers gives us. It's a really, really great experience and he teaches you so many great things and it's just really helpful if you want to become a singer like I do."
After 25 years, Myers said, he thought he would have already finished his journey with Maryland Sings. But "the young people keep coming and they keep bringing these wonderful gifts, wonderful voices," he said.
Jamee Espinoza, Katie's mom, said it's obvious why the ensemble has lasted as long as it has.
"When something is good quality, it lasts," she said.
While Myers is the teacher, he continues to learn from his students, he said.
"I've learned so much. I learn something new almost each time I work with them because they present me with a new problem and because of my experiences I'm able to solve those problems. And I've learned also that the young people are our future and we've got a job to do because I just feel myself that the world is so messed up right now and we need young people to take over when it's time for them to take over, whether it's government or whatever it is, that they're ready and they're sensitive and kind and good people," he said.
And after a quarter of a century, Myers said, he still has more to give.
"My overall thing is I want for young people to achieve. And I will continue doing what I'm doing until God tells me that's enough," he said.
If you go:
What: Friends Helping Friends performance
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 20
Where: Inside the Town Mall of Westminster at the Boscov's entrance