The Highlands Youth Ensemble traveled to Greece, where they performed three concerts.
Involvement in the arts continues to be a productive creative outlet for the youth of today. Music, in particular, expresses the emotional experiences of life, opening up doors of opportunity for those who foster their talents in it.
Local renowned Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy (MECCA) has long been teaching students to embrace the musical side of life - the academy was established in 1987 - and this year's choir groups have sung their way into highly-regarded concerts and performances, both near and far.
MECCA, which is made up of around 135 total singers at present, serves as an umbrella organization for three age-specific choir groups: The Choristers (first through third grade); The East Tennessee Children's Choir (ETCC), which encompasses grades four through eight; and the Highlands Youth Ensemble (HYE) which includes high school students (9th through 12th grade). The singers come from over 30 different schools (both public and private) located between the regions of Greene County, Tenn., and Smyth County, Va.
"We're giving music to as many students as we possibly can," said MECCA Artistic Director Jane DeLoach Morison. "We teach using Kodaly-based programs and proper vocal techniques to take a piece of art, a piece of music and make it the best you can make it."
This summer, the ETCC performed for the American Choral Directors Association in Chattanooga, Tenn., Morison said the Tennessee state conference included directors from all over Tennessee and that her students' presentation was "just spectacular." ETCC members also visited many landmarks while in "The Scenic City," including the Tennessee Aquarium, where they sang with a flash mob.
The older HYE recently had the sublime privilege of singing three concerts overseas in Greece: one a solo concert inside Agios Nikolas (St. Nicholas) Greek Orthodox Church and two other collaborative concerts with international choirs - the first of which was one of John Rutter's own compositions performed with him at the baton and the last a large outdoor concert with American, French and Greek Choirs singing Puccini solos and choruses while accompanied by a full orchestra.
Morison said HYE singers not only gave high-caliber singing performances in incredible venues in Greece, but "built bridges and formed friendships with singers from around the world." And the sights she and her singing troupe beheld! Morison said they visited many indescribably beautiful spots in the Southern European country from ancient ruins like the Acropolis of Athens and the Parthenon to the Island of Syros where many of her students jumped from a cliff into the blue waters of the Aegean Sea.
When asked what her favorite part about Greece was, 17-year-old rising senior and HYE alto Grace Mucha said "everything."
"The food was really good. ... and the concerts we had. ... I really liked going out to the beach and swimming in the Aegean Sea," she said, remembering that almost the entire choir jumped off the cliff into the sea.
Mucha joined HYE two semesters ago and said "it's a great opportunity. I've done a lot with them."
Brenna Williams, a 16-year-old HYE soprano said "it was really eye-opening to see a different culture... [The Greek people] are very nice. The food is amazing. When I get older I hope to retire [in Greece]. ... It's like a fairy tale almost, over there."
Morison said traveling for concerts is important for MECCA singers to realize "everybody has the same hopes and dreams all over the world."
Morison went on say that MECCA students may or may not continue down a musical path in college, however, opportunities and scholarships to some of the best schools are still made available to them. "Our students become teachers, chemists. ... they are great members of society," she said. "To get to work with these kids who want to become better, ... I'm the luckiest person in the world."