PACOIMA, Calif. - They have a song in their hearts, trophies on the shelf and a big trip to look forward to.
“It’s pretty much a countdown until we leave to Vancouver, Canada," soloist Celeste Ignacio explained, looking at a digital clock in her classroom.
The Pacoima Singers are heading north at the end of the week to compete in the Vancouver Heritage Festival and the pressure is high.
“Their expectations are way up here for you," Dr. Scott Mandel told the students at a recent rehearsal.
Dr. Mandel is the director of the group and a teacher at the Pacoima Middle School Film, Media and Performing Arts Magnet. “I said I’ll come for one year, I’ll stay as long as I’m enjoying myself," he said. "26 years later I’m still doing it.”
He and his students take show choir very seriously and it shows.
This month, they swept the top prizes at the Music in the Parks Competition in Santa Clarita – 1st Place, Judge’s Choice, Esprit de Corps, and Best Middle School Vocal Soloist. That last award went to Ignacio, an eighth grader who has her sights set on a singing career.
“I’ve been dreaming of it since I can remember," she said. "It’s something that just like keeps me motivated to, you know, wake up every day.”
She says her involvement in show choir has been life-changing, and she’s quick to sing the praises of Dr. Mandel.
“He means a lot to me, whether he knows it or not," she said. "I’ve learned a lot of self-expression. I was so insecure.”
Dr. Mandel believes art education is "a place where all kids can unbelievably succeed, feel good about themselves and become better more well-rounded people.”
The choir is open to seventh and eighth graders so many of these kids heading to Canada will be heading off to high school next year.
Dr. Mandel will miss them.
“They’re some of the nicest kids I’ve ever had and they are so talented and it’s just a nice group to be with," he said. "It’s a nice reason to come to work every day."
A high note in a career that’s decades long and counting.