Laurie Karel grew up in a musical family.
She remembered that her parents always sang, and she”s loved to sing as long as she can remember. The University of Idaho Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival also plays a big role in her memories, as she said she”s been visiting Jazz Fest since she joined her high school choir.
Jazz Fest was smaller then, Karel said. Her high school choir placed second in competitions for multiple years that she was a part of it.
“It was a lot of fun,” Karel said.
Despite it being smaller in scale then, Karel said performing in Jazz Fest made her want to attend UI. Once she was an official Vandal, she joined the university Jazz Choir, led by Daniel Bukvich.
“I do remember he had hair then,” she said. “And then I came back and he didn”t have any hair.”
Though Karel loved music, she also wanted to be an elementary teacher. After graduating from UI, she taught in Lewiston for a while before returning to her old grade school Prairie Elementary School in Cottonwood, Idaho. There, she created the Prairie Youth Choir in 2001.
Over the next 15 years, the Prairie Youth Choir performed at Jazz Fest whenever there were enough children in the choir to attend, she said. She tried to let her students visit on days when larger jazz choirs would perform.
“The key to getting kids excited about music was to get them somewhere bigger,” she said.
Karel said her students in the Prairie Youth Choir work hard all year, especially when they are preparing for their performance at Jazz Fest. Last year, all of their hard work paid off.
On the second day of the 2015 Jazz Fest, the Prairie Youth Choir was recognized and performed in front of a crowd of thousands in the Kibbie Dome.
“I was so proud of them,” Karel said. “When they were warming up I started crying.”
One of Karel”s students, 11-year-old Anna Everson, performed a solo in the choir”s performance of “Swing Low.” Karel said she knew Everson was a natural singer even when she was only five or six years old.
“You”d hear her singing on the playground and say, “Whoa, that girl”s going to be on American Idol some day,”” she said.
Everson”s mother, Tammy Everson, said she”s known singing came naturally to Anna since she was a baby.
“She”s been singing since she was like, I don”t know, two,” Tammy said. “She can sing. She”s always been singing.”
The Everson family is also a musical one. Tammy said Anna”s older sister Martina sang in choirs as well, and Tammy sang to Anna when she was a baby every night before she went to sleep.
When Tammy realized Anna”s talent, she wanted to get her to take voice lessons, but said the Cottonwood area is so rural she couldn”t find anyone who was available to teach her. She also encouraged Anna to nurture her talent through church, but Tammy said she was too nervous.
“I really wanted to help her master some of those skills,” Tammy said.
Anna joined the Prairie Youth Choir four years ago, and last year”s Jazz Fest was one of the first times she performed a solo with the choir in front of a large audience. Tammy said Anna was less nervous performing in front of the huge crowd of strangers than she usually is when she sings for a more intimate audience of people she knows.
“I have to hear her do it when she doesn”t know I”m paying attention,” Tammy said.
At this year”s Jazz Fest, Anna will perform two solos on her own and another solo with the Prairie Youth Choir. Tammy said she sometimes gets nervous for Anna because Jazz Fest is coming up so soon, but whenever she hears her sing it restores her confidence. Anna said she”s a little nervous with the Jazz Fest drawing near, but only because she doesn”t want to let Karel down.
But Karel appreciates all of her students. She said she hopes to bring her choir to Jazz Fest as often as she can to give her students the opportunities to showcase their talents in the arts.
“All the kids are gifted in different ways,” Karel said.