URBANA — When Franklin Gallo came to Parkland College three years ago, his Chamber Singers choir had just six members.
On Thursday, surrounded by the gilded interior of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Urbana, Gallo raised his hands to bring to attention a group of 24 singers ready for Sunday’s St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital sing-a-thon benefit.
The concert — scheduled for 3 p.m. at the church — will also feature hundreds of high school choir students from the area performing more than 20 musical selections in a range of genres.
What’s most exciting for Emily McKown, who splits her time between the Parkland Chamber Singers and studying music therapy at Illinois State University, is that Gallo’s repertoire is filled with works from underrepresented communities. One of her favorites, which the group practiced Thursday, is “Kwela Kwela,” an arrangement of Sotho and Zulu songs.
“It’s such an exciting opportunity to get so many local choirs together,” McKown said.
“I’m really thrilled with the caliber of education some of the singers have. And it’s going to be great to have all the choirs sing the last song together.”
For Gallo, it was important from the very start of his tenure as the director of the chamber choir that he expand it. His efforts to reach out to area high schools each year are a large part of why Sunday’s concert is happening, and also why his choir has grown so much in just two years.
He’s familiar with the St. Patrick church choir, having served as its director when he first moved to Champaign. He said he wanted to bring both his loves together — Parkland and the church — in order to put on a show that many wouldn’t expect from a community college choir. A lot of that work was getting people to participate, he said.
“I called up nine different high schools and told them who I was and offered to do a clinic with them,” Gallo said. “I was really asking ‘How can I help?’”
With more than a 1,000 people in the St. Patrick congregation, Gallo thought it would be the perfect venue — complete with great acoustics — for a large choir to raise money for St. Jude’s.
But it’s also about giving Parkland students an opportunity to continue singing, he said.
Autumn Ellis, an art and design student in her second year at Parkland, said she joined the choir after being contacted by her former choir teacher, whom Gallo had spoken with.
“She told me that I had an in so I joined it,” Ellis said. “I loved choir in high school and so I thought, why not keep it going?”
Melissa Goldman, a musical theater student, said she remembers when the choir was just six people.
“We had a different director when I started, and I was kind of nervous about staying because I didn’t know what Frank was going to be like,” Goldman said. “He did a lot of outreach for the choir, though, and made it bigger. It’s going to be great to have high school kids see that you can still sing while you’re in community college.”
Gallo said he hopes the audience likes the last song at Sunday’s sing-a-thon, “Woven Together” by Jacob Narverud, which all the high school students and the Parkland choir will sing in unison. The audience is invited to join in during the final verse.
“It’s going to be like a thousand voices all singing together in this beautiful place,” Gallo said.