Emma Roche is the new director of the Los Robles Children’s Choir

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Thousand Oaks native Emma Roche, a former Los Robles Children’s Choir who has pursued a career as a singer, has been the ensemble’s new artistic director since June.

The choir’s founder, Donna Young, who retired in 2012, said she was more than happy Roche, 34, had returned to lead the group.

“I would stand up and do jumping jacks and handstands if I could,” Young said with a laugh. “I couldn’t think of a better equipped person.”

Young founded the choir in 1997 and was its director when Roche was a student aged 10 to 18.

Young continued to support Roche at college recitals and through professional milestones, including her time as a soprano soloist with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

“I saw how hard she always worked,” Young said.

Roche said she was involved in dance and theater growing up, but the choir was how she discovered music was her passion. She is now happy to be back where it all began.

“It kind of combines all my talents,” Roche said of his new position.

She also teaches music and choir at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School in Thousand Oaks. Roche has a music degree from Westminster Choir College in New Jersey and the University of Southern California, where she earned a master’s degree from the Thornton School of Music.

After college, Roche traveled the country as an opera singer before settling to work in the Los Angeles area and start a family. When COVID travel restrictions hit, Roche realized she wanted to work in Ventura County rather than travel to Los Angeles.

Emma Roche, the new director of the Los Robles Children's Choir, teaches vocal exercises to Keira Loos, left, Priya Mummanieni, Sid Mahesh, Natalie Badurek and Nicholas Chi at Monte Vista Presbyterian Church in Thousand Oaks on Thursday.

During the pandemic, enrollment at the Los Robles Children’s Choir has dropped from about 100 singers to 30. Roche hopes to bump the number up and make the choir more accessible to low-income families through grants and scholarships.

“A lot of families are looking for a community for their kids,” she said. “A musical house.”

In the program, youth ages 5 to 18 from across the county learn music theory, sight-reading, singing skills and more, said Rita Warren, chair of the choir’s board of trustees.

Participation in some levels of the program requires auditions and tuition, although financial aid is available.

Roche recalled her youth in the choir where she learned skills and made connections beyond music. She is still in touch with friends she made over the years.

“That’s why it’s important to have these types of organizations,” she said.

Roche recalled when she was 12, touring Europe with the choir for the first time. Between performances at grand cathedrals and sightseeing, the experience was not only fun, but culturally enriching, she said.

“You’re just surrounded by arts and culture,” Roche said. “These are places that you don’t have here in our American suburbs.”

Roche remembered the irresistible acoustics while exploring spots in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Once, while waiting for the bus, his band started singing to pass the time and before they knew it, an audience had gathered.

Now, back as choir director, she hopes to help students improve their musical acumen and encourage them to create their own memories and friendships.

“I’m super excited to keep this program alive,” she said. “It’s important for community building.”

Auditions are open for the fall season which begins in September. An apprentice group for young singers ages 5-8 requires no auditions, while more advanced groups for older participants involve individual assessments.

“Every voice matters,” Roche said. “We want children who are eager to learn.”

Choir members will need to acquire a high level of musicality over time.

“Our instrument is our voice,” Roche said.

To reinforce singing techniques, the group will sing mostly classical music and occasionally Disney medleys or Broadway arrangements. This season will include a winter concert, Christmas carols and a few opportunities to perform alongside professional orchestras.

Most auditions, rehearsals and performances are held at Monte Vista Presbyterian Church in Newbury Park. Annual tuition is $660.

For more information on the Los Robles Children’s Choir, visit childrensinging.org.

Cytlalli Salgado is a breaking news reporter for the Ventura County Star. She can be reached by calling 805-437-0257 or emailing [email protected].

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