One of the least likely words to show up in a description of Pat Wilhelms is “retiring.”
So when the longtime Aberdeen High choir teacher “retired” at the end of last school year, you knew it was only a matter of time before she’d be focusing her seemingly boundless energy somewhere, and more than likely it would have to do with music.
Wilhelms will unveil her latest musical project — and young proteges — when the Poco Voce children’s choir makes its debut on Thursday, Dec. 20, in Aberdeen.
She formed Poco Voce — which means “small voices” — with third- and fourth-graders from seven local elementary schools: A.J. West, McDermoth, Robert Gray, Stevens, Cosmopolis, Central Park and St. Mary’s. There are 58 youngsters in her first-year choir.
“I’m being a bit selfish in just helping the Aberdeen vocal system,” Wilhelms said. “I just really want to give what I never had, because I really never had a feeder program when I was teaching at the high school.”
To that end, Wilhelms began recruiting choir members early in the fall and they have been rehearsing every week at the United Methodist Church in Aberdeen. She’s starting with third- and fourth-graders this year and will expand to fifth-graders next year and six-graders the year after that. The cost is $30 per semester, though scholarships are available.
“I’m kind of whistling in the dark here because I’ve never done this before,” she said of forming the non-profit community choir. She has created a board of directors, which is working on the organization’s three-year budget plan so the group will be eligible to apply for various grants next year and in the years to come.
The board members — along with Wilhelms and her assistant, Allison Fagerstedt, who teaches choir at A.J. West — are Ella DeVerse, Claudia Self, Kathy Rees, Kristi Waite and David Devine. Wilhelms also noted that attorney Tom Brown and accountant Harold Warren have been extremely helpful in volunteering to deal with budgets and setting up the organization’s non-profit status.
The choir will make its debut performance with a Christmas show at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 20, performing such holiday favorites as “Deck the Halls,” “Silent Night,” “Up on the House Top” and a reading of “Twas the Night before Christmas” with musical interludes. The program will be held at the church and is free of charge, though donations will be accepted to go toward future scholarships. Half of this year’s students are on scholarship.
Wilhelm says she’s getting lots of willing help, especially from Fagerstedt and the folks at the Methodist Church, who are donating the space for rehearsals and performances.
I really want to give a shout out to the church for letting us use their facilities at no charge,” Wilhelms said. “Everyone has just been so gracious there. They’re just delighted to have all these kids singing in their church.”
The parents and kids seem happy, too, with more than half the class signing up for a second night of rehearsal each week.
Kelsey Tikka’s son Carson, 8, and daughter Taylor, 9, are two of those, and the single mom is delighted with the program.
Her kids are both third-graders at Cosi School.
“They love it,” Tikka said. “I didn’t think Carson would enjoy it, but he loves it. I think it’s a really a neat program. And there’s no music program at Cosi, so this is really needed.
“My kids practice at home and talk about it. They just love it,” Tikka added. “The structure is great and Pat Wilhelms doesn’t take no guff from no one — parents or the kids! She’s very strict on her rules, even with the parents, but she makes it very parent-involved. I think she’s a really neat lady for doing this.”
Anybody wishing more information on the Poco Voce choir or who would like to make a donation, can email Wilhelms at firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail at Poco Voce, P.O. Box 564 Aberdeen, 98520.