Unaccompanied Minors relish a cappella singing in barbershop style.
Unaccompanied Minors, a new a cappella chorus made up of girls and women ages 7 to 25, wowed the judges and the crowd last fall when they sang “If I Ruled the World” at an international competition in Orlando.
Now, the talented singers are eager to compete this month at an area contest in Jacksonville against more mature singing groups from Florida and Georgia. They hope that performance qualifies them to sing at the 2019 internationals in November in Sandusky, Ohio.
The Unaccompanied Minors group rehearses in Clermont and is the only female youth barbershop chorus under the patronage of Harmony Inc., an international, nonprofit organization of women who enjoy a cappella singing in the barbershop style.
The young singers, most of whom are from the Clermont area, already have generated attention. They placed 14th at the 2018 international competition, an unheard-of ranking for a first-year chorus and a group of singers under the age of 25. They were awarded the G. Ruth Geils Memorial Award for the highest-scoring novice chorus.
“It was overwhelming and amazing,” Unaccompanied Minors Director Tiana Sandh says. “I knew that we were going to make a noise being the first all-youth group ever for Harmony Inc., and I knew that the members were going to be welcoming, loving, and just be amazed that this group existed. But we didn’t expect to win the couple of awards that we won, and the reception was the best part.”
Her group received a standing ovation after performing its first song.
“I remember thinking that if they’re standing for the first song, they don’t know what they are in for,” Tiana says. “By the time we got to the second song, “If I Ruled the World,” some 2,000 people were standing, crying, and bawling hard. The song was really important to us. We were told by many judges that it needs to be our theme song.”
The song relates to youths making a difference and “how much better of a place would it be if we actually let kids have a say in how their world is going to look,” Tiana says.
The young singers say the positive feedback they received was thrilling.
“Everyone was very excited to see us because the members in the organization are much older than we are, since the average age is around 50,” says Vincenza Como, 16. “Everyone was very excited to see such a young chorus singing barbershop and singing it well.”
“I love that this group is full of people who are really young,” adds Sydney Bruenen, 19. “I love that I have people who can teach me new things, and people that I can teach things to, and I love the community and friendship that we have. I don’t have little sisters, but in this choir it’s like I have 80! It’s great and I love that.”
Tommie Tracy, 12, cherishes rehearsals and performing with her chorus sisters.
“It helps me feel better,” she says. “We all walk out happy all the time. I have younger sisters and older sisters, and they are all so fun, and it just makes me very happy. I just love singing with them.”
The Unaccompanied Minors enjoy the fun of a cappella singing, and several have been asked by friends: “Do you sing at a haircutting place, like in a barbershop?”
“Barbershop music is very different,” the director says. “It causes your ears to hear differently, it creates a phenomenal style of music. If you’re really good at it, you can hear five notes being created while only four parts are being sung. It’s enjoyable, and you feel the emotions.”
Tiana cherishes the passion and drive of her young singers, many of whom were new to a cappella singing before joining Unaccompanied Minors.
“They have taught me that I don’t have to set any boundaries on them,” she says. “I don’t have to put up any walls, and they do everything that I ask them to do and are prepared to do everything possible that I expect them to do. Every rehearsal, I get to go past where I think in my brain where I am going to be able to go because they are just so good at what they do.”
The group was formed a little more than 18 months ago with the encouragement of Kristin Gunasekera, a member of Sisters of Sound, a local women’s barbershop group that’s also a chapter of Harmony Inc. She’s the mother of Daphne and Scarlett, both members of Unaccompanied Minors.
“Kristin always wanted to put together a kids’ group, so she said, ‘Let’s do this! They can do it,’ and I completely agreed,” Tiana says.
However, one of the challenges was working around the young group’s busy schedules since many of the singers are busy with school, dance, theater, and other activities. Rehearsals last seven hours on the first Saturday of each month.
“The amount of work that they do outside of rehearsals to come in prepared with the music learned and lyrics memorized allows us to make the seven hours incredibly productive,” Tiana says. “We get a lot done. We walk out of every rehearsal happy with what we have done and feeling accomplished for what we have created.”
Lindsay Fontana believes Unaccompanied Minors has been a great confidence booster and team-building opportunity for her twin daughters, Sophia and Olivia, 9.
“Singing in a chorus is kind of the ultimate team sport,” Lindsay says. “You can’t sing harmony alone; you have to do it in a group. It really encourages teamwork and it encourages listening to everyone around you and adjusting what you do, and isn’t that kind of what life is all about? This is a tremendous confidence builder, and it’s teaching the self-discipline of learning the music, being judged, having someone watching you and scoring you.”
At the April 5-7 area contest in Jacksonville, the group will be judged on performance, singing, and music, based on a rubric, and the score will determine whether or not they qualify for the 2019 international competition.
“Just because we have made it once before doesn’t mean we’re going to make it every time,” Tiana says of qualifying for internationals. “There is work that goes into preparing and being ready, and it has to be just as much this year as it was last year. They know they have to work. I love these kids and they are extremely hard workers.”
The chorus is open to new voices. Females ages 7-25 throughout Central Florida are invited to audition for Unaccompanied Minors. Previous singing experience is desirable but not mandatory. After an audition process through an online submission, chorus hopefuls will receive two barbershop songs to learn on their own.