Musical connections in youth come full circle


Caitlin Slator

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Musical connections in youth come full circle

Melanie Popejoy’s love of music expands far beyond listening pleasure – it’s about igniting passions.

As the founder and artistic director of the Grand Cities Children’s Choir (GCCC) and director of choirs and voice instructor at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, Popejoy has always mixed her passion for music and teaching, inspiring hundreds of children in the Grand Forks community.

“I saw the kids that loved singing, and thought there should be something for them in town,” she said. “Imagine if we put those kids with students from other schools who love to sing as much as they do?”

That idea sparked what is now the very successful GCCC program.

Beginning this fall, Popejoy will bring her enthusiasm and passion to the University of North Dakota as associate director of choral activities. The move will reconnect here with many of the students she taught and mentored as youth in the GCCC.

Popejoy’s new duties include directing two ensembles: the Allegro Women’s Choir, comprising students with different majors, and Vivo, a newly re-formed women’s chamber ensemble. She also will teach two classes.

Popejoy said she is up for the challenge of teaching college students.

“I’m so passionate about teaching, I welcome this opportunity,” she said.

At UND, she’ll see several familiar faces around campus.

Three of her former GCCC members who have graduated the choir program and returned to work in leadership roles, are now current UND students.

Also, her husband, James Popejoy, director of bands at UND, will be working in the same department.

Building a children’s choir

In 2001, while teaching choir at Valley Middle School, Popejoy launched GCCC as a division of the Summer Performing Arts (SPA) program, and the Grand Forks Public Schools. Before their first audition, Popejoy thought she would be lucky to get 40 students.

She got more than 100.

Now entering its 11th season, the GCCC attracts more than 200 members each year in grades 3-9.

What Popejoy didn’t expect, was the lasting impact she and the GCCC would have on children. Three UND students, Jacy Thibert, Caitlin Staples and Megan Ault, all GCCC graduates, have returned to work for the choir in leadership roles. And all three credit Popejoy for influencing their career choices as young adults.

Lasting effect

“Working with Melanie and the GCCC has made me realize I need to work with children,” said Ault, a communications, sciences and disorders major. “Speech pathology isn’t directly related to music, but the vocal-care aspect really got me interested. Melanie helped steer me in the right career direction.”

As a double major in psychology and music, Staples said working with Popejoy had a lasting effect on her. “She is a major part in my decision to pursue music at the collegiate level. She sees the best in people, and instills faith in them so they believe they are capable of achieving more,” she said.

Thibert explained being involved in the GCCC helped her develop her love of music, which led to double majoring in music therapy and vocal performance. “It’s the (GCCC) that I attribute my major and career choice,” Thibert said. “Music has given me an outlet and a way to express myself, thoughts and feelings.”

Caitlin Slator

Writer, University Relations

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