When I step into a coffee shop on a golden fall morning to meet Steven Brundage and Nikki Eoute, the world feels full of possibility. Light is streaming through the long windows, and there’s a hint of cooler temperatures. As we settle into conversation, I quickly realize my companions are direct reflections of the atmosphere’s bright optimism. In fact, the words Greenville Youth Chorale are barely out of my mouth before the two friends take off on the tale of their latest musical collaboration, a local choir that connects kids from different backgrounds.
“Choir is all about family and unity. Unity for the community. You spend time with people you normally don’t spend time with,” Nikki says. Agreeing, Steven adds, “There’s something about standing side-by-side with someone. Choir is a team sport.”
Both music professionals (Nikki in voice performance and conducting, and Steven in piano pedagogy), the two have been friends for years—Nikki and Steven’s wife, Laura, sing together in the local ensemble Rivertree Singers. Nikki is an adjunct professor at Bob Jones University, and Steven is the director of a music-teacher cooperative. With a shared passion for working with children and teaching music, it didn’t take long for the idea of starting a choir to form. They felt there was a need for a diverse youth choir in Greenville, and with their unique experience, the two knew the time was ripe.
“We would have been happy with 30 kids,” says Steven, who began promoting for a September start date this summer. Today, the chorale has 105 participants, separated into three different choirs based on age. While students pay to participate, donor funding provides scholarships for those who qualify. Nikki and Steven are clear in their mission that music is for every child and in every child; they don’t turn students away.
“So many kids need a different outlet, they need something to look forward to,” Nikki says. “They realize they have this power over the music to create this thing that affects themselves and other people.” Steven adds, and Nikki quickly follows, “Choir breaks down barriers. Your new best friend is the person sitting next to you.”
It’s why they put such a strong emphasis on the chorale reflecting Greenville’s cultural diversity, a goal they readily admit hasn’t come naturally. They’d gladly welcome more male participants, and while they have a unique partnership with the Frazee Center, they hope to continue to build relationships with other after-school programs and schools in at-risk communities.
While Steven manages executive direction and accompaniment, Nikki artistic directs and conducts. The chorale follows the English classic tradition, and while they aren’t a show choir, they throw in a little variety. With a holiday concert coming up at First Presbyterian Church on December 7, and a spring concert planned for April, Steven and Nikki feel they’re just getting started. Long term goals include touring, performing at Carnegie Hall, even taking the students to Disney.
“There’s so much potential,” Steven says. “With how fast Greenville is growing, this could be an icon of our community. We’re making magic with music.”
For more, visit greenvilleyouthchorale.com