Choir emphasizes emotions, storytelling in singing after New Orleans performance

As they stood still on a crowded street corner in the music and history-filled French Quarter of New Orleans, Gia Versales (11), Maya Bollapragada (11), and other members of Westview Choir began to sing.

It was Feb. 28, Choir’s last day in New Orleans, and they hoped to finish the trip by making their own musical mark on the streets of New Orleans. At first, they seemed to be singing to no one but the ghosts of historic musicians who once strolled the streets. Singing on a street corner was different than in a theatre. An audience wasn’t sitting, expecting a show. Rather, Choir was reaching out with music, hoping to capture a crowd.

“At first people were just walking by,” Bollapragada said. “We had to make our presence known.”

To grab the attention of an audience, they had to tell a story with their music. Bollapragada said that learning to do so was a major takeaway from Choir’s trip to New Orleans, Feb. 24-28.  According to her and Versales, exploring jazz music and attending a class at Loyola University during the trip helped them find success, gather an audience, on a street corner.

At Loyola University, a music professor from the school, Margaret Frazier, met with the members of choir and provided them with a fresh perspective.

“She presented the teaching in different ways and that was interesting to see that there are more ways to get to the same outcome,” Bollapragada said. “One of the things she told us was that there is more to music than what’s on the page and that storytelling aspect is something that we really took from this trip.”

Words weren’t the only things that inspired the students to go above and beyond in their music. At a jazz concert, performed by the Preservation Hall Band, Versales was moved to tears by the music.

The concert took place in a small, comfortable venue. Students sat on a floor covered with quaint cushions among locals and other audience members. The lights were low, and phones or other distractions were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, as if vibrant life were being injected into the room, the music started. Jazz filled the room, its free flowing and colorful nature bringing along intense emotion. Audience members cheered along as if the music itself had taken over their souls. Versales was amazed by the powerful music and its effect on people.

“It was so beautiful and eye-opening,” she said. “I found a love for [jazz music]. I’ve never really connected to a song in that way before.”

Bollapragada also said she felt a connection to jazz music.

“You could just tell how carefree it was,” Bollapragada said. “Pop music doesn’t always tell a story, but with jazz music there was always a story behind it and it was really clear.”

Seeing the effect that emotional music and storytelling can have on an audience, Bollapragada said she hopes to bring that back to Westview.

“Our music is in a different language sometimes so it’s hard to portray exactly what it’s trying to say but adding in more emotion helps,” Bollapragada said. “We want to show more than what’s on the page.”

By modifying their facial expressions, movements, and volume according to the song they were singing, the group started their storytelling journey on a street corner in the French Quarter. Their first few minutes of singing was experienced by no real audience, but it wasn’t long until people started to stop and feel their music. As they progressed through their songs and around 20 spectators came and went, the students said they felt they were telling their story and making their own mark on New Orleans.