Choir director shapes young voices despite losing hers

The first concern centered on her life. It then shifted to her livelihood.

South Kitsap resident Stephanie Charbonneau began studying piano and singing in choirs at age 3.

But a lifetime of honing her craft nearly came to an end when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which wrapped around her vocal cord. She had her first surgery in May 2007.

“When I woke up from the surgery, I couldn’t breathe,” Charbonneau said. “They put me on a ventilator.”

Charbonneau, 31, survived the surgery but no longer could speak. She said her communication was limited to whistling and snapping her fingers.

That changed the following January when Charbonneau had another operation that inserted a prosthesis behind her paralyzed vocal cord.

“I feel like my voice still is improving,” she said. “I can sing well enough to teach, but I don’t think I could perform.”

Instead, Charbonneau has dedicated herself to training the next generation of choir students. Earlier this year, she formed the Spectrum Vocal Performance Ensemble.

The group rehearses from 9-11 a.m. each Saturday at Charbonneau’s home. She is the executive director of the ensemble, while her husband, Donald Stojack, serves as the director of operations and marketing. Both graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a Bachelor of Music degree with emphasis in piano performance.

They also are staff members in the Music & Worship Department at First Pres-byterian Church of Bellevue. Charbonneau said she plays the piano for the youth group there and directs the middle school choir.

That is in addition to their work with the select group of students that comprise the Spectrum Vocal Performance Ensemble. That group includes teenagers from the West Sound and a few from the Seattle area.

“It’s really geared toward kids who want to excel in music,” said Stojack, who was the founding director of the Prestant Boys Chorus of Port Orchard and served in that position until 2008.

Among the nine-member Spectrum Vocal Performance Ensemble is 16-year-old Bremerton resident Maggie Bies. She was involved with Irene’s School of Dance in Silverdale for six years before an injury led her to focus on a choral career.

Bies said she was familiar with Charbonneau, who was the founding artistic director

of Cappella Choirs in Port Orchard and served in that position from 1998 to 2008.

“She’s very talented,” said Bies, who became a soprano in the ensemble after a tryout. “I really enjoy working with her because she’s so inspirational.”

Charbonneau said the Spectrum Vocal Performance Ensemble could grow to a dozen members. She also is auditioning vocalists for the children’s chorus, which encompasses kindergarten through fifth grade, from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, and then children from sixth through 12th grade in youth chorus at the same time on Thursdays. Auditions can be scheduled through Charbonneau at 360-271-8086.

While the Spectrum Vocal Performance Ensemble rehearses at Charbonneau’s house, performances are held outside of the area. Because of a shortage of facilities with strong natural acoustics in South Kitsap, the group has a concert Dec. 10 at the Chapel on Echo Bay in Gig Harbor and Dec. 11 at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church in Seattle. In addition to the Spectrum Vocal Performance Ensemble, Charbonneau said her two younger choirs also will perform at those events.

Bies said she looks forward to performing some seasonal favorites, such as “O Holy Night” and “Winter Wonderland,” at those venues.

“It’s very meaningful for me,” she said. “I like reaching out to people through music.”

The choir also has two performances in April before it participates in the Fort Warden Children’s Choir Festival the following month.

But it is more than those events that keep Charbonneau going.

“I love working with kids voices and hearing that sound,” she said. “I think it’s more than the music — it’s making a difference in kids’ life.”

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