Palmetto Bay resident Jamie Perez Sutta knows the power of music and its ability to inspire and encourage children. Founder and artistic director of the Children’s Voice Chorus, her group is now preparing for a performance at New York’s fabled Carnegie Hall.
Using VOICE as an acronym for “Voicing Oneness and Individuality through Choral Education,” the program was established in the fall of 2011 for boys and girls, ages 8-17. It started with only 21 students but currently has 70 children enrolled in the program.
But beyond music its purpose also is to teach children about teamwork, focus, and discipline, as well as “cultivating young artists who will enrich their communities and inspire social change.”
Sutta knows firsthand the transformative power of music education in overcoming adversity.
“It was for me, because I came from a low income single family home and I was an incredibly unmotivated student with little direction and very low grades,” Sutta said. “In ninth grade I was placed in a chorus at my public school. It turned out to be a major turning point in my life because there was a really passionate chorus teacher — his name was Mr. Bradley — and in this choral program my love for singing led to really rapid growth as a singer and a musician.”
She said the life skills she learned through that program took her from being a ninth grader with little motivation, low grades and no plans to graduating with honors and getting a full scholarship in voice at Florida State University.
“I was the first in my family to attend college,” Sutta said. “I really attribute my life changing to music and that passionate teacher. I believe that music really changes the lives of children and can transform them like it was in my situation.”
With children dealing with social media, bullying and peer pressures, she said the choral program provides a safe space for them to come every week and through music to grow personally. Rehearsals take place weekly at Old Cutler Presbyterian Church, 14401 Old Cutler Rd. in Palmetto Bay but students come from as far north as South Miami and as far south as Homestead.
Sutta graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Choral Music Education from Florida State University in 2003, and has a master’s degree in Vocal Jazz Performance from the University of Miami. As a vocalist she has performed nationally and internationally.
She served as an adjunct voice professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where she founded and directed the children’s chorus in the Preparatory Department. She currently is the director of choral activities at Old Cutler Presbyterian Church.
Sutta said that Children’s Voice Chorus augments and enhances what is offered in the public school system. Some of her students have attended choral magnet programs.
“I believe in supporting and partnering with these programs for the benefit of the kids,” Sutta said. “We have a different style and philosophy, and we offer a wide variety of diverse repertoires that they perform, not just classical music. We also include pop, contemporary and jazz.”
Last year the children participated in a songwriting workshop in the summer and they wrote, recorded and made a music video.
“We’re getting the kids involved in some creative projects where they’re participating in the writing of the music as well, which gives them a platform to say something musically,” Sutta said. “We also offer them several times a year performance opportunities that they might not have in the regular public schools. One of those for us this year is a performance in Carnegie Hall.”
To help cover costs for that trip, the Children’s Voice of Miami will be performing a cabaret style show on Sunday, Mar. 16, 3 p.m., with songs from Broadway musicals including Jersey Boys, Wicked, Jekyll & Hyde, Newsies and others. The concert will take place at Old Cutler Presbyterian Church, 14401 Old Cutler Rd. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Sutta said she has several standout memories working with the children.
“One of our first big performances was singing the National Anthem at a Marlins game,” she said. “That was pretty cool to see those kids walk on that field, their eyes wide, and singing for the massive stadium of people. We also were invited to attend a music festival in Tampa, the Young Voices Festival. It really changed a lot of our kids. When we came back one of our students decided that she wanted to be a music teacher, and she told me ‘That’s what I want to be when I grow up.’ To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Boys and girls, ages 8-17, may audition for the Children’s Voice Chorus. There is a tuition fee per semester, but Sutta said that shouldn’t discourage anyone.
“We offer a lot of scholarships,” she said. “All singers are invited regardless of their ability to pay. We don’t turn anybody away because of their finances.”