SPRING HILL — You don't have to look far in Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties to find ambitious sports programs. There are traveling teams galore for kids who swim, tackle, kick and even cheer.
But children with singing talent have needed to do some traveling of their own to Tampa to find an independent performance group of the highest caliber.
This summer, area music teachers are holding auditions for the Nature Coast Children's Chorale, a new singing ensemble for children in grades 3 through high school that has its eyes set on the musical heights.
"The Jacksonville Children's Chorus was performing last week in Carnegie Hall," said David Pletincks, director of the new chorale. "That's what we want for our kids (on the Nature Coast)."
Pletincks, who runs the vocal and instrumental music program at Powell Middle School in Spring Hill, sees a need for a children's chorus that allows the region's best singers to push their talents further. While such children enjoy their school choruses, he said, they often don't get to try challenging music or sing with equally talented peers.
And some kids don't even get that much. Some schools have no vocal music program, or a limited one taught by someone who is stretched beyond his or her training.
"Programs are being cut," Pletincks said. "You see band directors being asked to teach a period of chorus, and they may not know a lot about choral music."
And aside from the Tampa Bay Children's Chorus and Gulf Coast Youth Choir, there are few outside options for children on the Nature Coast.
"We have some real talent up here," said board member Morgan Burburan, who teaches music at West Hernando Middle School in Brooksville. "A lot of children want to participate, but they don't want to drive that far."
The new, nonprofit ensemble will give those kids a chance to stretch, with music from all traditions and plenty of opportunities to perform.
Within a year, Pletincks hopes to offer three separate choruses: one for elementary students, another for older elementary and middle schoolers, and a third that spans middle and high school.
Already more than 30 students have signed up for auditions. On Friday, eighth-grader Caitlyn Sipple took a deep breath and led the competition with a pitch-perfect rendition of My Country, 'Tis of Thee.
"It's a chance to travel more and sing with different people," she explained.
Gigi Michalicka, a fifth-grader at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, brought a touch of vibrato to her audition. She takes private vocal lessons in Tampa, and jumped at the chance to join a good chorus close to home.
For her, it's not about competition. When Gigi asks herself what she'll be one day, she hears music.
"Maybe being a vocal teacher and music teacher," she said. "Because I love to sing."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.