Modest mouth

Friends with Amazing Voices

Mig O'Hara, standing at right, leads a rehearsal of Friends with Amazing Voices.

Mig O'Hara, standing at right, leads a rehearsal of Friends with Amazing Voices.

Photo/Anna Hart

Friends with Amazing Voices performs at the Nell J. Redfield Theater for the Performing Arts, 505 Keystone Ave., on Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. The Colin Ross Band with Bryan Jenkins and Jerry Spikula will accompany the singers. Free.

Over coffee and tea, Mig O’Hara and Jessica Towery speak warmly about Friends with Amazing Voices, a new group comprised of several Reno community members that unite musicianship and kinship to reach a higher level of vocal artistry.

The ensemble crafts a unique set list for each performance, based on the occasion and members in attendance, seamlessly combining jazz standards, pop hits and show tunes to create a cohesive performance that’s both tailored to the talents of the individual singers and varied enough to appeal to the diversity of audience tastes.

The project started with the aim of filling an overlooked void of the local creative sector.

In her capacity as a teacher, director and choreographer in Truckee Meadows Community College’s musical theater department, O’Hara witnessed the abundance of talent in the Reno arts community. Yet she recognized a lack in programs geared toward helping young artists develop viable careers as professional performers.

As an experienced singer, songwriter and dancer, O’Hara understood the disconnect between the theory of building a viable performance career and its real-life application. In early 2015, she sought to address the issue, by forming a collective of handpicked student, amateur and professional vocalists, spanning 13 to 75 years old.

Over time, Friends with Amazing Voices evolved, bringing together musicians from a range of experience, talent and age levels to foster an environment where the participants can hone their skills, as well as gain experience singing in an ensemble, as a back-up vocalist, and at center stage.

With an invite-only membership as well as a name that literally refers to their talents as “amazing,” it might be easy to dismiss the initiative as snobbish or cheeky. But in reality, it’s all in an effort to create an atmosphere that promotes both the importance and humility of each individual in its ranks.

The exclusivity that the group maintains allows for the ability to finely tune a team dynamic. Together, Friends with Amazing Voices manage a delicate balance that has no room for divas, centering on the ideal that musical expression reaches its peak through cooperation, instead of competition.

O’Hara acts as artistic director, alongside Ted Owens and Colin Ross, the vocal and musical directors respectively. Together the trio creates musical arrangements, provides live accompaniment, and gives guidance.

What the founders hope most to impart is the knowledge, confidence and stamina that it takes to make a living in a field that can be intolerably difficult to break into.

“It’s an educational program, but it’s also much more than that,” said O’Hara. “It’s a springboard for community singers. They get to work with a live band, perform and sing arrangements that really showcase their talent. But they also see how the process works, and how to move forward in the music business.”

Friends with Amazing Voices is much like other local groups in that it provides young vocalists with opportunities to work alongside established musicians in an encouraging, educational setting, but what sets it apart is its emphasis on personal growth.

“Two years ago when I came to TMCC, I never thought I’d be a part of something called Amazing Voices because I didn’t think I had an amazing voice,” said Towery, a TMCC student and current member of Friends with Amazing Voices. “Working in the program has brought out my confidence, both as a performer and in my personal life.”

While Friends with Amazing Voices is still relatively new, that hasn’t curbed the group’s ambition. The troupe is constantly searching for new concert opportunities, with hopes of bigger venues, a record and a tour in its future.