Kathryn Barnard conducts the Oakland Girls Choir in a rehearsal at the Church of the Ascension.
By Andrew Druckenbrod Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Early in the past decade, conductor Kathryn Barnard had a vision of creating an all-girls chorus that would be a "roomful of sisters, nurturing and mentoring each other."
In 2005, she raised her hands in front of 15 girls in the Oakland Girls Choir, a group she founded with help from the Oakland Service Ministries. Since then, she has incorporated the chorus into its own nonprofit and seen the program grow to 80 girls.
"I saw a disparity in what girls could do musically compared to the boys," says Ms. Barnard, who serves as the group's artistic director. "I wanted to have just a girls choir because I think there is something really special about that."
In the future, Ms. Barnard wants to add a boys choir, but for now she has plenty on her plate. The Oakland Girls Choir is as much a training program as a performing chorus. And they tour in the region and internationally.
Ms. Barnard, a mother of three daughters who lives in Forest Hills with her husband, graduated from Concordia New York with degrees in church music and piano performance. She received her master's degree of music from the University of Texas and later studied vocal development at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey and the Eastman School of Music in New York. She has directed youth and adult ensembles in Baltimore, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
For the Oakland Girls Choir, singers come from throughout the Pittsburgh region and are placed in ensembles by age and skill level. They perform and rehearse at the Church of the Ascension in Shadyside.
"Our repertoire has grown over time," she says. "For the advanced choristers, in high school, it is all-women choir programming now as opposed to more children's music when we started. We sing sacred, secular and multicultural music."
She works hard to bring in girls of all ethnic and economic backgrounds and this month is using a novel way to support the scholarships that offset joining costs of $400-$1,000 a year. About 15 alumnae of the choir, now in college, are collaborating to sell "Carolgrams" this Christmas. For $100 to $150, the singers will perform favorite carols and holiday songs at donors' front doors.
For Ms. Barnard, it is doubly satisfying. The funding is helpful, and she has gotten proof of that friendship and mentoring she was looking for.
"The alumni are so excited about it since they haven't sung with each other for a while," she says. "They want to support the organization but are poor college students!"