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EPISD students from El Paso Youth Opera rehearse over the weekend for an upcoming concert with Dave Koz at the Plaza.
EPISD students from El Paso Youth Opera rehearse over the weekend for an upcoming concert with Dave Koz at the Plaza.

EPISD singers to perform with Dave Koz at the Plaza Theater

Seven El Paso Independent School District students are part of the 17-member group of singers from the Youth Opera of El Paso who will perform with saxophonist Dave Koz during his holiday concert on Dec. 15.

“Singing with Dave Koz is such an honor,” said Julia Annabi, a Coronado High School freshman. “It is an opportunity and a blessing. A kid my age could only dream of being on stage with such a talented musician.”

Like the other members of the Youth Opera, Coronado High junior Austin Nakamoto has been busy preparing for the concert by practicing and memorizing the music.

“Singing with Dave Koz means that I get to have an amazing opportunity to work with a professional singer who travels the nation,” Nakamoto said.

The Youth Opera of El Paso will open the show with the world premiere of the song “Graceful” by Canadian composer Martha Hill Duncan, which was specifically written for the occasion. Later in the show, the Youth Opera will perform a special arrangement of “Let it Go” with Koz.

“The type of opportunity this creates for my students is almost indescribable,” Artistic Director Kimberley Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto said. “Many Youth Opera of El Paso singers plan to pursue music beyond high school, so collaborations with artists of this caliber help our students stand out in a highly competitive field.”

At last year’s show, the Youth Opera performed with Christopher Cross, who himself is a Grammy, Golden Globe, and Oscar winner.

Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto said the opportunity last year to perform with Koz came about after the group was featured in the El Paso Symphony’s performances of “Carmina Burana.” They also have performed in El Paso Opera productions of “La Boheme” and “Tosca.” Most of the students singing at next week’s show performed with Koz last year.

“This is my second year singing with Dave, and we have more complex music this year,” said Nathan Thompson, a Canyon Hills Middle School sixth grader. “I think that Dave Koz is amazing on the saxophone, and I listen to his music all the time.”

Not feeling well, Wiggs Middle School sixth grader Mia Lacaze sat across from the group resting her instrument while listening in and jotting notes as they rehearsed. She lit up when asked about the Koz concert.

“I’m both nervous and excited because we’re out there with someone professional who has been doing this all his years,” said Lacaze, who also performed last year with Koz. “It’s so much fun. There’s so much energy backstage.”

The excitement and experiences for this group does not end with the Koz performance. Their talent will be showcased next year in New York City for a collaboration with Broadway greats Georgia Stitt and Lisa Franklin in Stitt’s new musical: “Samantha Spade, Ace Detective.” In 2017, the group will travel to Ireland for another world-premiere children’s opera.

In the past two years, the Youth Opera of El Paso has performed at national and world-premiere performances in New York City and Toronto of “Searching the Painted Sky,” an original children’s opera written specifically for them by Martha Hill Duncan and Janet Windeler Ryan.

“I believed that being in this company would not only give me opportunities to perform, but also to meet people who share my passion,” said Hannah Tuttle, a Morehead Middle eighth grader. “Being in the Youth Opera of El Paso has made a huge impact on my life and I am so happy to be a part of a wonderful singing family.”

The Youth Opera of El Paso has given students opportunities to learn and grow musically.

When Nakamoto was a freshman, he sang for internationally known mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and the Dean of Opera from the Manhattan School of Music. “He asked me to audition for their school when I was old enough,” Nakamoto said.

Other EPISD students in the Youth Opera of El Paso singing with Koz are Dawsen Rystad, a freshman at Andress High School, and Isabella Morales, an eighth grader at Wiggs Middle School.

Author: El Paso ISD

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