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North Hills program helps fine-tune voices in changing times

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By Laurie Rees
Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Shaun Cloonan, choral director for the North Hills School District, has loved singing all his life — except for the three years during junior high school when his voice began squeaking and cracking.

“I stopped singing altogether because my voice was changing, and I didn't know what to do with it,” he said.

While there are many opportunities for boys in senior high schools to perform at festivals, as well as middle school honors choirs and elementary song festivals, there aren't many opportunities that specifically address the needs of the most daunting of times in a singing boy's life — the voice change, which, according to Cloonan, can temporarily limit some boys' vocal range to a scant three or four notes.

The Mucho Macho Music Festival, sponsored by the American Choral Directors Association of Pennsylvania and held in the North Hills district, is one such opportunity. This year, its 10th, the festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at North Hills Middle School in Ross Township.

In previous years, the event has brought together as many as 125 male singers in grades six through nine from as far away as Mercer and Fayette counties to join in a day of music and confidence-building.

Nick Doyle, 17, of West View, remembers the challenges he encountered while his voice was changing during puberty.

“It was kind of a struggle sometimes,” the North Hills High School senior said. “Your voice cracks, and people laugh.”

He participated in the festival during his junior high years and continues to lend his assistance wherever needed.

“As a boy, you usually only sing in a coed chorus, but this music is for male parts only. It ranges from classical to comedy. It's an opportunity for guys to get out of their skin to sing and share their abilities with other guys who share the same interest and talent,” he said. “It's fun.”

The day will focus on the singing process, according to Cloonan, and the boys will work on four songs.

One, “Whistle, Maggie, Whistle,” is a comical love song involving a conversation between woman and her boyfriend, which allows boys to sing in the range of either a male or a female. Another selection, “Cover Me With the Night,” is full of West African rhythms and great harmonies, Cloonan said.

The event will conclude with an informal performance presented to participating directors and students' families at 3 p.m. in the school auditorium.

Ryan Beeken, director of choral studies at Indiana University of Pennsylania, will be the guest conductor.

“This event allows young men to experience a type of repertoire that they often are not able to experience in their home schools because they simply may not have the number of singers necessary,” said Beeken, 41, of Indiana, Pa. His own 18-year-old son, Ryan, recently sang his way to becoming a finalist on Fox's “The X Factor.”

Approximately 100 singers from 13 school districts will participate in the festival. Participants are selected by their choral directors.

“The overall goal is to give middle school boys an experience of good choral music in a safe environment that makes them feel confident,” said Cloonan, 35, of Churchill.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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