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'Canto Spianato' finds its voice

In May 2010, a vocal ensemble of young adults -- mostly college age and from the Connellsville area -- was brought together by local music instructor Michelle Harbaugh.

The goal, explained Harbaugh, was to create a performance group of musicians who had private voice lessons and participated in their high school and college choirs. They are singers who enjoy presenting choral music with other experienced performers.

"I named the ensemble 'Canto Spianato,' which means smooth singing, because I was studying, as part of my master's program, about the acclaimed voice teacher Mathilde Marchesi and her vocal techniques. Marchesi uses the words canto spianato to not only refer to her style of teaching smooth singing but she also uses these words to describe good singing in general," Harbaugh said.

The members include:

• BreAnna Connell, a Connellsville Area High School graduate and a senior theater major at Seton Hill University. She was most recently seen in the university's production of "Cabaret."

• Laura Husband, a CAHS graduate and a junior biology/pre-med major at St. Francis University. She is a member of the St. Francis tennis team.

• Josey Miller, a CAHS graduate and a music education major at Seton Hill University. She was most recently seen as Donna in the Apple Hill Playhouse production of "The Taffetas." Miller recently signed an acting contract with a theater in Lancaster for the fall season.

• Carlie Keffer, a CAHS graduate and a freshman music education/music therapy (dual) major at Slippery Rock University. She is a recent recipient of a Connellsville Mozart Club Music Scholarship.

• Brendan Duffy is a graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic High School and is a theater Major at Seton Hill University. He was most recently seen in the role of "The Emcee" in the university's production of Cabaret -- www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/ae/theater/s_734503.html .

• Lindsey Weimer is a CAHS graduate and graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor of science in music education. She is a music teacher (substitute) and director of the Connellsville Area All-Star Chorus.

• Jonathan Eutsey is a CAHS graduate and graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor of science in music education. He is a substitute music teacher and works with the Connellsville Area High School Marching Band. He directs the annual passion musical at Paradise United Methodist Church in Bullskin.

• Matthew Richey is a CAHS graduate and a senior mathematics major at Seton Hill University. He is a referee for the Connellsville Soccer Club.

• Sarah Noone is a Derry Area High School graduate and senior vocal performance major at Seton Hill University. She has interned in hair/makeup at the Pittsburgh CLO and recently performed the role of Kay in the Apple Hill Playhouse performance of "The Taffetas."

Husband has been a group member from the beginning, she said.

"This has been a great experience. When Mrs. Harbaugh put the group together, she came up with the name Canto Spianato, which can be translated to good or smooth singing. To accomplish that, our group would have to stay small.

"The best part about Canto Spianato is that we mainly sing a cappella. I like it because while it is challenging, you can really hear each other and listeners can focus on the singing alone. We also sing a wide variety of musical selections, where our different music backgrounds come into play."

The newly formed ensemble rehearsed for six weeks and performed twice in the summer of 2010. In 2011, it began rehearsals in June and performed three times in July. Its concerts include choral music from the Renaissance through the present day, sacred music, American folk songs and contemporary pop music. Rehearsals are held at the First Presbyterian Church in Greensburg.

"We have performed one unpublished piece by local Pennsylvania composers on each of our concerts," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh is a music teacher and choral director at Connellsville Junior High East.

"I was encouraged by two of my mentors, James Dearing at IUP and Edgar Highberger at Seton Hill, to start a choral ensemble. I organized Canto Spianato when I began to talk to former students about it and saw that there is a local interest in continuing to sing choral music after high school and college graduation. The members of this group are not only great singers, they are great people."

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