Growing up in Michigan, Rachel Beeksma did it all. She played basketball, volleyball, did gymnastics and dance. But while singing in the all-state honors choir as a high school student, she realized she felt a connection to music and choir so strong that she knew she was going to make it her career.
“I just really realized that music can touch people in the deepest parts of their hearts that might not happen in other ways," Beeksma said. "I'm really, really passionate about changing perspectives through music.”
After teaching at schools throughout the country and performing with world-renowned orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, Beeksma has taken the instructor job at the Lake Country Children's Choir, a newly formed satellite program of the Milwaukee Children's Choir.
Beeksma said she can't wait to share her love of choir and singing with students in Lake Country.
“There's a story, and there's a heart, and there's passion, and there's shape to a sound," she said. "Even little kids can do it. It just has to do with how they're taught. That's one of the big things that I'm very excited to do at Lake Country.”
Lake Country Children's Choir is still holding auditions. The final date will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 6 at Hartland Music, 1125 James Drive, Hartland. Auditionees only need to sing "Happy Birthday" and perform choral warm-ups, Beeksma said. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Individual auditions can also be requested after Oct. 6.
Students accepted into the program will meet for two hours every Monday at St. Charles Catholic School. Choir members will have the opportunity to perform with professional orchestras and take a trip in the summer to Tennessee.
Lake Country Children's Choir is under the same umbrella as Milwaukee Children's Choir, and will include all the benefits of the parent choir, Beeksma said. The Milwaukee Children's Choir teaches children in six age categories and performs and rehearses throughout the Milwaukee area.
"It's just a satellite choir, so instead of all the Lake Country kids coming to Milwaukee to do rehearsals, we decided 'let's put a choir just here.'"
The path to Lake Country
After high school, Beeksma went to Northern Michigan University to study choir. There, she met her husband who was also studying choir. After graduation, Beeksma began teaching music at an elementary school.
There was just one problem.
“It was fantastic, but I got sick all the time. All those germs just everywhere,” Beeksma said. “So I thought, I'm going to try high school to see if I can be a little healthier.”
Beeksma moved to Ashland, Wisconsin and began teaching there. After about a year of teaching, Beeksma and her husband decided to pursue a master's degree.
“Even though we had a really good education from Northern Michigan, we wanted more," she said. "We just really thought it was a good time to try.”
The two began studying at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. However, they realized they wanted more out of their education, so they asked a favorite instructor for a recommendation on another school.
“He said, 'You need to come to New Jersey, stay with me for a week. I will show you the campus and I want you both to be my grad assistants,'” Beeksma said.
So they quit their jobs, packed up their things and moved to New Jersey to attend Westminster Choir College, Beeksma said.
“Our families thought we were crazy,” she said. “We uprooted, we moved and we were kind of homeless for a while.”
Beeksma earned a master's degree with a focus on music, music education and voice. While enrolled, she worked with Dr. James Jordan, a renowned conductor. She also worked with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Beeksma sang several times with the New York Philharmonic and performed with the Vienna Philharmonic. She has traveled the world performing with highly respected musicians and ensembles.
After seeing the job listing online for the new Lake Country Children's Choir, Beeksma's husband said they should both apply. His family is from Wisconsin, and he wanted to get closer to them.
“So we both applied. We do that all the time. It sounds weird. We have duked it out for jobs before, and this time, I won,” she said. “We tell the employers all the time, 'We don't care who you choose. We want you to be happy with who you feel comfortable with.'”
Marco Melendez, the artistic director of the Milwaukee Children's Choir, earned his bachelor's degree at Westminster. They have a lot of the same philosophies about music and teaching young people, Beeksma said.
This year, Lake Country Children's Choir will accept about 20 students. Each student must participate in their church or school choir if it is available, Beeksma said.
“We are not taking away from schools or churches or anything," she said. "This is just an additional way for us to make these kids even better musicians.”
If the program is popular, they will add different sections and potentially more classes, such as instructional programs for younger children. To find out more about the choir or to sign up for an audition, visit milwaukeechildrenschoir.org. To sign up after the last audition date, contact Beeksma at 414-221-7040, or at email@example.com.