By Megan Bowers, Staff Writer
Four years ago, Kyra Klontz and Sarah Mattina sat in their Collegiate Chorale class not knowing that their lives were about to be forever impacted.
At the beginning of class, Tanner McClellan stood up and promoted her club, the Best Buddies Friends Choir.
“The way she described it was just bringing music in a way that has never been brought to people who have different abilities before,” said Sarah Mattina, public relations chair. “There’s a lot of segregation, so there has never really been this integrated group before.”
The Best Buddies Friends Choir is under the umbrella of the group Best Buddies on campus.
“Best Buddies fosters friendships between adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and college students,” said Kyra Klontz, the choir’s president.
The choir takes this one step further by adding the element of music and weekly rehearsals.
“We have several adults from the surrounding communities and, like, 10 college students who go every Saturday for an hour and have choir rehearsal,” said Klontz.
They learn about four to six songs per year and also have two signature songs.
“This year we’re sticking with a theme of ‘Happy,’ so we’re doing songs like ‘Walking on Sunshine,’” said Mattina. “We like to stick to themes that are positive and uplifting.”
Although they are singing at Miami’s upcoming Presidential Inauguration, most of their performances take place in the spring so they have time to learn the songs.
This includes their major event, the A Cappella Awareness Concert, in March.
“It goes along with Spread the Word to End the Word, which is the effort to remove the word ‘retarded’ from everyday language,” said Klontz. “Our concert is the culmination of the end of that.”
The choir invites all the other a cappella groups on campus to come and teach a song to the Buddies, which they believe is a great way to integrate more people on campus.
Last year they hosted Marlana VanHoose, a singer with cerebral palsy who is also blind and who is very prominent in the disabilities community.
The opportunity brought a namesake to their event and also positively effected their program.
“It was very exciting for the Buddies to see someone who has a disability, has made this talent their own and actually gotten support from people,” said Klontz.
Their rehearsal environment is casual and non-intimidating.
“You go the first time and the Buddies are already making fun of you,” said Klontz. “It’s a very refreshing experience to have that on the weekends after being a college student.”
This relaxed environment is perfect, allowing the Buddies to learn while also having a good time.
“I was one of the first people that joined the choir the first day that it started,” said member Amanda Stoeppel. “I joined because I love to hang out with friends and singing is one of my favorite things to do on a daily basis.”
The last few years, the choir has been very focused on just having a good time, but this year they are hoping to improve musically as well.
“We’re working on syncopated rhythms and finding a steady beat, and we’re even learning some harmonies,” said Klontz. “It’s just great to see all these people come together and overcome a challenging piece of music together.”
The group is not immune to getting nervous, however, and these feelings tend to sink in right before every performance.
“It’s always up to the whole group to motivate each other and get everyone in the right mindset before we get on stage,” said Mattina.
The group has had the chance to sing for some fairly large groups. They have been at Miami basketball and hockey games, one of which was broadcasted by ESPN, and they have even performed at a Dayton Dragons game.
However, they have set their gazes even higher this year.
“We’re currently looking into singing the national anthem at the Reds baseball game,” said Mattina. “I just want to get our name out there as much as possible and then maybe one day, other people will be inspired to create a chapter like this on their own.”
The impact the group has had on Klontz is insurmountable. After spending some time with the group she actually chose to pick up a Special Education minor to go along with her Music Education major.
“I’m just hoping to find a program when I graduate where I can teach music, either at a school for autism or maybe just create a Best Buddies friend choir of my own,” said Klontz. “I just want to incorporate it into my life because it’s been the most rewarding and eye-opening experience I have ever had.”