Youth Choir returning to Lewistown

Charlie Denison

Rachael Schwaller, right, poses with Miss McKinney’s 3rd grade class Friday.

Photo courtesy of Rachael Schwaller

Elementary choir teacher Rachael Schwaller and Fergus High School/Lewis and Clark choir teacher Chris Hildebrant are teaming up to bring a youth choir back to Lewistown.

Open to grades 3-6, the non-profit youth choir will present what Schwaller calls a “quality performance of youth choral music for the enrichment, enjoyment and education of the singers, patrons and the Lewistown community.”

“We are just getting it started,” Hildebrant added. “There is a letter that will be showing up at homes in the next couple days.”

Hildebrant, who will accompany the youth choir on piano and other musical instruments, said it’s important for younger kids to have these kinds of opportunities.

“Plus the artistic community is growing, and I feel this is a logical next step,” he said.

The need is here, as the elementary school classes are growing, too, and it’s been 26 years since such a program existed in the community.

In the late 1980s, former music teacher Vikki Thune put together a youth choir for Lewistown – the Melody Makers – which put on concerts and performed at a variety of community events. However, it didn’t last long, as Thune left the community for Oregon in 1991, which ended the Melody Makers.

Schwaller recently talked to Thune about reviving the youth choir, an idea that came courtesy of St. James Episcopal pastor Jean Collins.

“[Thune] was super excited to hear the group is coming back to town,” Schwaller said. ““We both talked a lot about how much confidence it builds for kids. It’s a fun thing to have in the community. I’m excited to see how it grows and goes.”

An East Helena native, Schwaller grew up singing in choirs, and she wants the youth of Lewistown to have the same opportunity.

“Some of my closest friends and best life experiences came from choir,” she said.

Inspired by her positive experiences, Schwaller has made choir her career, receiving a Master’s in music curriculum and instruction and co-directing the adult ecumenical choir (Cantata) with Hildebrant.

Hildebrant, who moved to Lewistown in 2013, is originally from Brookings, South Dakota, where he devoted much time to the musical arts, playing saxophone and keyboards while studying music as a composer and choral instructor. He said he’s encouraged by the direction of the Lewistown community and believes it is time the youth choir returns.

But the group will likely have a different name.

“’Melody Makers’ is actually a name [Thune] let the children come up with,” Schwaller said. “I like that idea, too, and want the kids to choose.”

A parent and singers’ informational meeting and registration is set for Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church. On Oct. 10, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Schwaller and Hildebrant will host a “voice check” to determine where choral members should be placed. Rehearsals will take place on Tuesdays and will also be at St. James.

For more information, contact Schwaller at



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