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New Children's Choir Brings Joyful Noise Back To Maria Ellis' Old Stomping Grounds

Maria Ellis leads a rehearsal on Jan. 22 in UMSL's Music Building.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Growing up in north St. Louis County, where she was leading choirs by the time she was 12 years old, Maria Ellis remembers thinking about St. Louis Children’s Choirs as “the ultimate vocal group.” But as her alma mater, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, notes ina recent UMSL Daily story about Ellis’ journey, Ellis couldn’t afford to join the SLCC program as a child.

She did participate in one of the organization’s community honor choirs, and now she’s come full circle, having landed a position as SLCC’s community engagement manager several years ago. But shortly after starting that job, she realized the north St. Louis County honor choir she’d so enjoyed as a child was no more. Now, in 2020, it’s coming back, thanks to Ellis.

Dozens of children in grades three through six are now gathering for regular rehearsals on UMSL’s campus — a place that was pivotal for Ellis’ own musical journey.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, she joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about her vision for the new choir. Also participating in the discussion was Michael Smith, the E. Desmond Lee endowed professor of music education as well as the chair of UMSL’s Department of Music.

From left, Maria Ellis and Michael Smith joined Tuesday's show.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
From left, Maria Ellis and Michael Smith joined Tuesday's show.

Ellis said when she joined St. Louis Children’s Choirs as a staff member, she “noticed there were lots of children, but not a lot of children that looked like me.”

“I wanted to change that,” she explained, “because I graduated from Riverview Gardens [and] wanted children from that area to have that experience of singing and have the love of singing that I got at a very early age.”

UMSL’s music department has been supportive of the new effort, which Smith noted fits in closely with his and colleagues’ vision for collaboration between the university and the local community.

Listen to the segment, which also includes the young singers’ voices during one of their recent rehearsals with Ellis and her team of helpers:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.