Natalie Garrett says she is still in disbelief that she gets to fly more than 20 hours to perform in a world-famous venue. Emily Baxter just hopes to hug a koala.
The two are among 34 East Valley students in the 110-member Phoenix Children’s Chorus now on a 12-day tour of Australia. The highlight will be their June 22 concert performance at the Sydney Opera House.
The children’s choir takes trips every year to perform; however, they travel internationally only every third year.
“When we heard it was Australia for this year I was so surprised, kind of in shock,” said Garrett, 19, of Chandler, who attended Chandler Preparatory Academy. “It was like, wow, amazing. Then when they added that we get to sing in the Sydney Opera House, it was disbelief.”
Among the contingent are 18 students who live in Chandler, six each from Mesa and Tempe, three from Gilbert and one from Gold Canyon.
Students must audition for the touring choirs. Garrett and Baxter were in the group that sang in New York’s Carnegie Hall last year. Garrett, who has been in the chorus for seven years, is among the few remaining from its last international trip, to Argentina, three years ago.
The choir, students ages 12-19, have been preparing all year for this trip of a lifetime. They will share the Sydney Opera House stage with the Colorado Springs (Colorado) Youth Symphony and a Temecula, California, high school band.
Choir members will be immersed in Australian culture while being home-hosted by local families. Baxter and Garrett hope to learn about a different culture, meet new people and discover new things while touring the country.
Neither plans to study music in college, but both are grateful for the opportunities that auditioning for the chorus and making it have given them. Both plan to continue singing informally in choirs as an activity that they enjoy.
Garrett is headed to Arizona State to major in biology in hopes of preparing for a career in the healthcare industry.
Baxter, 18, of Gilbert, who attended Prima Vera High and East Valley Institute of Technology, has been with the choir for five years. She plans to attend Northern Arizona University this fall to study biology. She hopes to become a naturopathic physician.
The Australia trip was announced just before the group performed a year ago in New York.
“All the seniors who graduated last year were super-jealous,” Baxter said. “I felt so lucky. I’m ecstatic. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to sleep.
“New York was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. It was so amazing. Riding a crowded subway was a culture shock, with so many people in a close, tiny space. Seeing Times Square and all the buildings, then getting to sing in Carnegie Hall, honestly, it was breathtaking. And now this. I am so fortunate.”
The award-winning touring Phoenix Children’s Chorus has performed in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Russia, Canada, Mexico, China, Italy, Argentina and throughout the United States, as musical ambassadors representing Arizona.
While learning the fine art of choral music, members participate in professional performances throughout the year and learn the basic elements of vocal technique, performance and musicianship skills. Summer music camp in Prescott, weekly rehearsals, music literacy and two advanced touring choirs travel nationally and internationally. Audition information is available at phoenixchildrenschorus.org.
Cheryl Mollerup, executive director of Phoenix Children’s Chorus, said each student was charged with raising the $3,500 necessary to make the Australia trip. Some obtained sponsors. Some received help from parents. Some made posters and set up fundraising kiosks outside supermarkets. Some held jobs.
And for those with economic hardship, assistance was given.
“As an organization, we did not want any of them to miss this,” Mollerup said.
Baxter says she is ready to soak up every minute of it.
“And I hope to hug a koala,” she said. “Isn’t that what everybody wants to do if they go to Australia?”