Small kids, big voices

The students arrived one by one to Glendale’s First United Methodist Church Thursday, where conductor Matt Catingub greeted them from a piano bench in the fellowship hall. It was the last round of auditions for the Glendale Pops Orchestra’s Dec. 9 show, “Holiday Pop!”

Anne Marie Bonino-Britsch, 13, was the fourth vocalist to sing for Catingub Thursday evening. A day earlier, Catingub and Glendale School Board President Joylene Wagner (a choir singer for the church) visited Rosemont Middle School inviting kids to audition, and Annie, as she is known, was in.

“The first song I sang was ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’ from ‘Tarzan’ when I was like, three,” said Annie, an alto. Every Sunday, she sings at Our Mother of Good Counsel in Los Feliz, but she’s never taken lessons. Her older sister has a singing voice, too, and because they are each other’s duet partners, Annie said, “It took everything in my body not to jump up to the harmony part in ‘Silent Night.’”

Fifteen-year-old Rebecca Chung, a soprano, was up next to sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” The Glendale High student is taking a number of music classes: marching band, advanced placement music theory, a cappella choir, chamber choir and bell choir.

“My parents say I’m too busy,” she said. “I don’t think so, because I still have time to be bored.”

Catingub last served as pops conductor for the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra before it went bankrupt last May, the same month he made his director/conductor debut in Glendale. It was his idea to recruit Glendale students for the pops show he hopes to make an annual affair. “We could have gone to an organized group, L.A. Children’s Chorus, whatever. I really wanted to keep it Glendale. I really wanted to make this our own.”

Thirteen-year-old Jocelyn Males has taken singing lessons since she was in the second grade and has played the piano for several years. At age nine, she taught herself how to play the guitar. “I have an electric as well, but I don’t play it as much,” she said. “I was really interested in doing this because I really like ‘Harry Potter’ music and I heard they were in the [show].”

The orchestra musicians for the upcoming show are who Catingub refers to as “the best studio players in town.” He added: “We can’t complain about the level of musicianship. This orchestra is good as it gets.” Pairing the best with young, local talent is what Catingub is thrilled about, as much as he is determined that the show will be more lively than organized.

Nearly the last to audition was soprano Sherry Lugo, a 13-year-old Wilson Middle School student whose voice could have been mistaken for that of a grown woman with years of experience. Catingub hadn’t finished playing the last notes of “Silent Night” when he asked if she was currently taking voice lessons.

“Nope,” Sherry said.

“Goodness gracious,” he replied. His second question was where she learned how to do the vibrato. “I taught myself,” Sherry said. Later, she named her favorite music as rock ’n’ roll, and Joan Jett, the late Freddie Mercury and the late Jimi Hendrix her favorite musicians. But at home, she listens to opera and replicates what she hears.

“I really want to be a singer,” she said. “It’s one of my dreams, actually.”

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