By Erika Webb
Brejoya Perry discovered her voice at three years old. Today, the director of choral activities at Deltona High School challenges young people to find theirs, and to share them with others.
In early December, the choir performed at Sterling Court Retirement Community in Deltona.
The entryway, dining room and staircase were aglow with lights from eight Christmas trees, wreaths and garlands. Rapt were the expressions on the residents' faces Christmas carols were song one after another. Cleverly orchestrated medleys were interspersed. That the choir practiced, practiced and practiced some more was evident.
Even the folks who said they couldn't hear appeared to be entertained.
Sterling Court General Manager Perry Dean Stone said he got tremendous feedback from the residents.
"They loved it," Mr. Stone said. "Many of them commented on it and said what a great time they had."
As far as he knows this was the Deltona High School Chorus' first performance at Sterling Court, Mr. Stone said.
"I've heard a lot about them," he said. "They sound very professional, and if they want to come back we'd love to have them."
The school chorus sings the National Anthem at Deltona City Commission meetings, has participated in Youth Explosion for Christ's Tunes for Toys Christmas charity event, and performs at area elementary and middle schools.
Ms. Perry was a recipient of the 2012 First Year Teacher of the Year Award from FUTURES, which recognizes beginning teachers who exceed district expectations.
Deltona High School principal Susan Freeman included the following comments with her nomination of Ms. Perry for the award:
"Ms. Perry has set high expectations for all her students. They are aware that she expects them to do well, not just in her class, but in all of their classes. She monitors closely the grades, attendance, and discipline of her performing group, because these are the students who represent Deltona High School in competitions and in the community. She makes herself available to her students before school, during lunch, and after school. Many of her students gravitate to her room during lunch because it's there they have found their comfort zone."
Ms. Perry said helping the students find their individual voices is the most important thing to her at the end of the day.
"I had one student who said, 'The only reason I'm here at Deltona is because of this class,'" Ms. Perry said. "Sometimes it's the only thing they have to lean on. They have things going on at home. This boy had challenges at home and they carried through every aspect of his life."
But how does one small, soft-spoken person get 60 teenagers to listen, much less harmonize?
"One thing I try to do with music is a clap. They usually know, usually, it's time to focus," Ms. Perry said. "I also do a siren with my voice. I go from low to high. They follow and then it's quiet."
As for the chorus' "professional" sound, Ms. Perry said it comes from a "mix of talent" and ample time spent rehearsing.
"I focus on a concentration of unified vowels and blending -- that whole concept of sounding like a chorus and not individual voices," she said. "My passion is voice, that whole thing of working with voices and getting the best out of our voices as an instrument."
Ms. Perry is a native of Daytona Beach. She attended Brewton Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga., and was the school's first church music graduate.
Ms. Perry's preferred musical genres are classical, pop, rhythm and blues, musical theatre and gospel.
She continues her own vocal studies, with concentration in classical voice, under the direction of Shirley Wang.
There are other lessons Ms. Perry wants to convey to choral students at Deltona High School, lessons about how they should use their voices when they're not singing.
"I tell them, 'you're representing the school, teenagers in general, me, your parents. Think of who you're representing,'" she said. "If I've only changed the life of one student, I've done what I'm supposed to do."