The lyrics "Sing until the whole world hears," from the musical "Prodigal," reflect the mission of Testify Ministries' contemporary youth choir.
Teenagers' voices drifted into hallways of the Cove Church on Langtree Road during a rehearsal last Sunday.
Director Susan O'Keefe's energy matches that of the 140 teenagers, who represent about 35 Lake Norman-area churches. Using music, drama and dance, choir members have found an outlet to praise God and tell others about him.
After working with area choirs for 20 years, O'Keefe began Testify Youth Choir in 2000. Any student in seventh through 12th grades can join. There are no tryouts, but members audition for solos, speaking parts and dance teams.
The teens perform two musicals a year, one in late fall and another in spring.
The choir will appear in six local concerts and one in Lenoir before leaving on a mission/performance trip to Miami in June. There it will sing for a children's orphanage and homeless group, spruce up the landscape and paint at the orphanage.
Visits also are planned to Universal's Islands of Adventure and Sea World in Orlando, where O'Keefe hopes the choir also can perform.
"I feel like the tour is a culmination, because it brings kids together and allows more time for them to reflect and let their hearts speak," said counselor Kris Croom.
Adult counselors such as Croom and Robin Tomei help with attendance, student care, fundraisers and administrative details so O'Keefe can concentrate on the choir.
Teens sometimes prefer to talk about issues with peers rather than with adults, so representatives from the soprano, alto and baritone sections have formed a youth council. Hannah Croom, Charity Edwards, Carmen Gabriel and Conner Keasey serve as role models and counselors.
A younger version of Testify Youth, known as Testify Too, is for students in grades one through six and rehearses later in the afternoon. O'Keefe said sixth-graders count the days until they can sing with the older group.
"I look forward to (rehearsal) all week, even though I have to practice. There's a reward at the end ... ," Conner said.
Tomei said, "I'm not sure Susan realizes the effect she has on the kids. She provides them opportunities to focus on God."
Before practices and concerts, teens have time for devotion.
"When worshiping God, we're not concerned with notes or words," Hannah said.
O'Keefe takes time to work on pitch during rehearsal. All eyes focus on her and choreographer/graphic designer Jessica O'Keefe Oliver as they direct voices and bodies.
O'Keefe said she's doing everything she loves.
"I don't have a future plan. God calls and I follow," she said.
Her path will take a new turn when she organizes a North Mecklenburg choir that will practice at Grace Covenant Church.
O'Keefe's wish list includes new risers and stage lighting. Fundraisers help purchase equipment. Some fundraisers, such as the 5K Run/Walk April 9, help students raise money for the mission/performance trip.
The 5K entry fee is $20 at the Point Lake and Golf Club. Register online at www.testifyyouthchoir.com. On race day, registration will open at 8:30 a.m.; the race begins at 9.
To schedule a concert, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-363-8367.