You Ought to Know: Gabrielle Dietrich

Categories:      Music
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 at 7:30 AM
You Ought to Know: Gabrielle Dietrich by Rebecca Styn
Contributed photo

Music belongs to everyone.

This philosophy continues to inspire Gabrielle Dietrich, the new artistic director of the Young People’s Chorus (YPC) of Erie, to continue her work in enriching others through musical performance and education.

YPC Erie was originally inspired by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. The mission of YPC Erie is to provide children of diverse abilities and backgrounds a comprehensive choral music experience as a way to further their personal and artistic growth and to foster cross-cultural understanding.

Gabby – as she likes to go by – is new to the Erie area. She was born and raised in Portland, Ore., completed her undergraduate degree in music education at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. and has been completely immersed in the performing arts ever since.

After graduating, she completed her master’s degree in choral conducting from the University of Colorado. She would spend the next several years of her life in the Centennial State, aside from one year abroad in Hungary, where she learned much of what she applies to her teaching today.

“I was really enthralled with the Hungarian music education system – known as the Kodály Method, a teaching concept which is also highly respected in Japan,” Gabby tells me. Kodály is very literacy-driven and has been widely applied in elementary school environments. “Although I work with older kids and adults, I believe the concepts can be applied to any age group. Because there’s not a music major at Penn State Behrend (where YPC is in residence), I can really tie musical literacy – reading and writing – into choral music. These concepts teach the students to become independent musicians throughout their lives.”

She also, in a twist, found Hungary to be very much like Erie.

“I spent a year in a city called Kecskemet and the cultural immersion really reminded me of Erie. It had a small town feel even though it was actually a larger city in size. They have a town square there that reminds me very much of your Perry Square. It’s like the town living room in a way,” she adds, reminiscing. “It’s just that the heart of Erie is right in Perry Square and so much happens in and around it. It’s the same way in Kecskemet. Except nobody speaks English,” she adds, laughing.

After leaving Hungary, Gabby went back to the University of Colorado and completed her Doctor of Musical Arts. During that time, she spent a year interning at the St. Martin’s Chamber choir, Denver’s only professional choir.

“I had a lot of opportunities in working with this group. A professional choir is much different. I had the chance to be part of several recordings and one of the pieces I conducted was actually used in a commercial recording. It was great to have for audition materials.”

Gabby would serve as assistant conductor to several different organizations, but one of her favorite experiences in her life was working with the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus.

“I grew a lot during my time there. As a woman it’s different working with all men’s voices because they’re an octave lower than mine,” she explains. “I wanted to demonstrate different things, but I couldn’t because of that degree of difference. I had to learn to adapt and find other ways to educate them. Plus, they were such an amazing group of men. I say this flippantly, but there’s really nothing more fun than being a straight girl in a room of gay men. It was a great experience to be in the minority and to truly be accepted by them. They were some of my best friends, and it was truly one job that never felt like work to me.”

During her time there, Gabby saw the group nearly double. “When I started there were 80 men in the group. By the time I left, we had over 150 participants. And even today, they are still very much a part of my life. In fact, many of them helped me move here.”

The Gay Men’s Chorus is actually part of an umbrella organization known as the Rocky Mountain Arts Association; there are four choirs within the group – aside from the Gay Men’s Chorus, there’s the Women’s Chorus, the Mosaic Children’s Chorus, and Out Loud: the Colorado Springs Men’s Chorus. Their mission is to build community through music. “When I was there, I learned that a choir has so much more to offer than just performing – especially in the realm of community outreach,” Gabby says. “We were building relationships in the community that went beyond performing.”

Gabby plans to bring these experiences to help enrich the YPC of Erie. “I believe that as we enrich ourselves, we also need to enrich our community. We are looking to partner with other organizations – whether performing for events for them, which is something that’s already been going on for a while, to actually doing more hands-on service work, such as working at the City Mission or neighborhood cleanups, etc.,” she says. “We want the community to realize we want to be a greater part of the overall experience.”

Gabby also wants to take the organization to its next performance level.

“One of the things I’ve been struck by is how much YPC Erie loves performing. They are truly motivated by music. And not every choir is like that. The group participated in the World Choir games this past summer, and we plan on being part of them again in 2014 in Latvia. We will also have a performance tour in 2013 that will be themed around the Battle of Put-In Bay. I want to take them to Fort McHenry and Washington, D.C. so that the tour becomes both an opportunity to learn some history as well as perform.”

In addition, she wants to stress the importance of working in less competitive environments.

“I want the group motivated to compete, but I also want them to experience what it’s like to sing alongside other choirs. I want them to have the same experiences but in a less competitive way,” she says. “I want them to feel responsible and proud of their work and understand that they can produce music in any environment – and for everyone. Everyone has a different background and singing is no more complicated than the ability to speak. I want everyone to understand that it can be part of anyone’s life – and that music truly does belong to everyone.”

Erie Reader: Vol. 6, No. 22
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