A choral organization in Rochester has been helping girls and young women in southeast Minnesota find their voice, courage and sense of belonging through the power of song. Sing Out Loud and its 130 members in Bella Voce Young Women’s Choir, Bella Fiore and the Bellettes have impacted the community, nation and world through the gift of music. Founded in 2007 by Shelly Winemiller, Sing Out Loud is on a mission to inspire young women to identify their gifts, reach their highest potential and make a difference in the world around them.
“Young girls have so many doubts of their inherent worth and beauty,” says Winemiller. “An all-women’s choir creates a unique safety net to come together to express those fears and be validated.” She explains, “Music is a catalyst. The voice is one of a kind. No one else has your voice, only you. Once you embrace and nurture it, incredible beauty and potential begin to develop. This is the bigger work of the organization through song, support and community.”
EXCEPTIONAL CHORAL TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE ARTISTRY
Bella Voce, which means “beautiful voice,” is for singers in grades 9-12 and draws girls from nine different cities representing 15 area high schools and home schools. Bella Fiore, or “beautiful flower,” was founded in the fall of 2012 for girls entering grades 6-8. The newest and youngest choir in the troupe is the Bellettes, which consists of singers in grades 1-5.
With a foundation rooted in the discipline and techniques of healthy singing and exceptional performance artistry, focus is on the highest quality choral experience and everything that music has to offer. Emphasis is placed on weaving together music that relates to world awareness, travel and fellowship. Selections range from classical and spiritual to contemporary, composers from Serbia to America, and languages including Hebrew, Serbian, English and German.
Auditions are held in the spring and fall each year. Rehearsals take place for two and half hours once a week, September through May. The organization emphasizes accountability and leadership, with expectations that the girls will practice music on their own and have a commitment to attend sectionals that are student-led.
THE BELLA FAMILY
Winemiller earned a bachelor’s degree in music therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She completed graduate studies at Adler Graduate School of Psychology and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She founded and is a therapist at Wellspring Family Therapy Center in Rochester.
The Sing Out Loud organization is an extended family affair. Shelly’s husband, Mark Winemiller, M.D., helps behind the scenes with everything from administration to technical assistance to music arranging and percussion needs. Their daughter, Julia, was in the organization prior to going to college and sons, Samuel and Isaac, help accompany the various choirs with a wide range of instruments. The extended Sing Out Loud family includes: Bella Voce accompanist Laurie Priniski, Bella Fiore director Stephanie Nolting, Bella Fiore accompanist Teresa Kramer and Cindy Pauley, Sing Out Loud operations administrator.
GROWING YOUNG WOMEN INTO LEADERS THROUGH OUTREACH
Just as foundational as good vocal technique, giving back to the community is of upmost importance. “Giving back solidifies each girl’s own inherent worth and beauty and helps to emphasize that gifts are meant to be shared with the world. In a culture of fast reward and always expecting and getting the next new thing, it is important to instill the value of giving of your time and talent to others,” says Winemiller.
The Voice to Voice program pairs singers with nonprofit organizations, teaching creative musical expression along with sharing the gift of song. The program was developed by Winemiller’s daughter, Julia, while she was participating in Bella Voce. Voice to Voice has worked locally with the Ronald McDonald House and has led music groups with the Minnesota Children’s Museum in Rochester. Julia has brought the program with her to college and is currently working with student volunteers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and St. Louis Public Schools.
SHARING MUSIC LOCALLY, NATIONALLY AND AROUND THE GLOBE
Bella Voce has traveled regionally in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. In 2009 the group went to Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and in 2012, they traveled to Italy. This past summer, 52 Bella Voce singers, chaperones, and musicians went on a 10-day tour through Europe that spanned seven cities in three countries. Bella Voce sang at three promoted public concerts at magnificent churches, performed at a recital at the Melk Abbey and participated in a school exchange at the Kodály Institute. The choir also toured several palaces, cruised on the Danube River (while singing “Blue Danube”) and experienced the region’s culture with local guides.
In 2012, Bella Voce was one of 13 choirs invited to sing at National American Choral Directors Association in front of choral directors from around the world. For the last two years, Bella Voce has been selected to participate in Minnesota Public Radio’s “Taste of the Holidays” broadcast and compilation CD. This is an honor usually offered to professional groups and adult ensembles.
BELLA VOCE MAKES A DIFFERENCE TO ALL WHO HEAR THE MUSIC
Bella Voce not only makes a difference in the lives of the girls who join the organization, but also strives to bless others. The organization lifts spirits through their annual concerts, singing at area churches and nursing homes, participation in choral festivals and outreach to patients at Mayo Clinic and the greater community, as well as orphanages and hospitals around the world. Bella Voce has touched thousands of hearts through their gift of music.
A unique and very memorable highlight of their recent European tour was spending time with staff and members of an orphanage and foster home in Bratislava, Slovakia. “We went on the trip with the declaration that we were going to be ambassadors of peace,” comments Grace Dokken, 16. “By spending time with the children in the orphanage and singing with them, I fully understood the meaning of the trip. The trip was about loving on one another through song and offering our time. I was able to show the children I met how much of a treasure they are. I am overwhelmingly grateful and thankful to have had the experience.”
It’s not unusual after each performance or concert for the organization to receive letters of gratitude or to hear from individuals who share how much the performance meant to them. Winemiller recalls meeting a woman who attended a Bella Voce Christmas concert shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. The woman said that she closed her eyes during the concert and felt as if she was hearing the sound of angels and through the clarity of the voices and spirit-filled sound, she knew in her darkest hours of fear she that she would be all right. “To really touch someone like that is amazing. Through music, and the collective gifts of the girls, we are able to bless others. My heart is overwhelmed with gratitude on how Bella helps girls grow and blesses all who come to hear us sing,” comments Winemiller.
HEAR BELLA SING THIS CHRISTMAS
Treat yourself to hearing the girls’ voices this holiday season. “A Bella Christmas—Let there Be Peace on Earth!” concerts will be on Friday, December 4 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Saturday, December 5 at Saint Marys Chapel-Mayo Clinic and Sunday, December 6 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Tickets can be purchased at singoutloud.org.
Laurie Archbold is the owner of Encore Public Relations and co-owner of Red Couch Stories. Her daughter Emma has been a member of the Bellettes, Bella Fiore and currently sings with Bella Voce.