Music Alumna Ruthie Nelson Founds Afterschool Youth Choir for Pasco Students

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

USF music alumna Ruthie Nelson is the founder of Young Voices of New Port Richey, a new choir serving fourth and fifth-grade students in West Pasco County.

Nelson started the choir in September 2018 after realizing the lack of choral opportunities for middle school age student singers in the area.

“I want to have an outlet for [the students] so music doesn’t just die in Pasco County,” said Nelson.

Many middle schools in the area county don’t have choral programs. These are the programs students would typically enter should they want to continue singing beyond elementary school.

On top of that, lower-income families in the area might not have the means to drive their students far to participate in afterschool choral programs.

In September of this year, Young Voices began its inaugural season with eleven members at the First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey.

Participation in the program is just 20 dollars, an amount that covers music and t-shirt fees. Nelson says the fee can be waived for families in need.

Local pianist David Matthews donates his time to accompany Young Voices. Nelson says it would not be possible to operate the program without his generosity.

Nelson knows the influence a good youth music program can have on students. Before studying with Professor Lynne Gackle at the USF School of Music, she sang with Gulf Coast Youth Choirs, a group for young singers led by Gackle in Tampa.

“I would not be in music if it wasn’t for Lynne Cackle,” said Nelson. “And my parents drove me into Tampa every single week for choir rehearsal.”

Nelson knows that not all families in the area have the means to drive their children so far each week.

Supported by her childhood musical foundation, Nelson was prepared to build her life around music. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in vocal performance from USF.

During her time at USF, she was able to opportunity to travel to Europe three times to perform under the baton of Professor Richard Zielinski. She also studied with USF music faculty members Annetta Monroe, Brett Diamond, and James Bass.

Now, Nelson is providing students in her hometown with the chance to keep advancing in music.

She says her students in Young Voices of New Port Richey are reacting positively and having fun making music.

Students are inviting their friends, and Nelson expects the group to grow rapidly. While currently open to fourth and fifth graders, she plans to continually expand the program each year to ensure more students have the chance to sing.

When not directing Young Voices of New Port Richey, Nelson serves as the music director at the First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey and the director of choral activities at Hillsborough Community College (HCC).

On World Peace Day on September 21, HCC’s Concert Chorus, directed by Nelson, participated in the AVoice4Peace Invitational at USF, an event that brought seven school choir ensembles, ranging from middle school to college, together for a day of singing and activities centered on peace.

AVoice4Peace ended the day with a sold-out show at the USF Music Concert Hall, leaving students and audience members with a renewed sense of calm, peace, and community.

“I think that’s what music is all about—getting people to be unselfish, to think about other people. Music can pull at your heartstrings more than just words can. Especially choral music, because it’s not just music or just text—it's both.”

Young Voices of New Port Richey meets on Wednesdays from 5 to 6:15 at the First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey.

For more information on the program, contact Cheryl Vaughn at 727-267-0192.