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A song and a spark

Young Singers of Orange County, which started as student's senior project, gives kids a chance to build vocal chops and confidence.

December 31, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Members of the Young Singers of OC perform at the Snoopy House at the Costa Mesa City Hall on Dec. 23.
Members of the Young Singers of OC perform at the Snoopy… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Brooke Allen was a late talker who blossomed into a young vocalist.

Despite demonstrating speech delays as a toddler, the Newport Beach resident couldn't wait to turn 5 — the minimum age requirement for Young Singers of Orange County — so she could be just like her older sister, Bailey.

Now 7 and 12, respectively, the two are enthusiastic members of the choir, which offers music education and performing opportunities for youths across the county.

"It was really nice to see [Brooke] sing and develop that confidence," said Lauren Allen, the girls' mother. "Now you wouldn't ever know that she started speaking late.

"Bailey is shy, but when she's up on stage, it's like she's another person. So it's been a really good outlet for them to express themselves, feel comfortable and sing for other people and make them smile."

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On Jan. 11, the sisters will join the choir as it partners with Chapman University's a capella ensemble SoundCheck. The day will begin with a two-hour workshop followed by lunch and a campus tour, which Young Singers' co-directors Issy Leustig of Fountain Valley and Sophie Smith of Newport Beach hope will encourage older students to seriously investigate a college education. Both groups will take the stage at 4 p.m. for a concert benefiting YSOC.

Samantha Smith, Sophie's older sister, started YSOC as her senior project at the now-defunct Orange Coast Middle College High School in September 2009. It developed into a nonprofit later that year. Now it is a reputed program for children that focuses on music, self-esteem and public service, and it recently won first place at the TEDx Orange Coast Teen Challenge.

"I was excited to introduce the world of music to kids, and I'd also recognized a long time ago that you could give back to the community in a number of ways, even just by singing a song," said Samantha Smith, 21, who is now a senior at Vassar College. "I was frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm from elementary schools and the school district for the after-school enrichment program I was teaching for.

"I was also frustrated by fellow high school students who complained about fulfilling the community service requirement to graduate high school, and I vowed to try and show how cool it could be to as many kids as possible so they could carry that mentality for the rest of their lives."

And it worked.

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