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EPISD singers to perform with Dave Koz at the Plaza Theater

Feb 4, 2016 El Paso Inc. - Renee de Santos/El Paso ISD

Elementary, middle and high school students from throughout EPISD rehearsed at Peace

Lutheran Church over the weekend,  tuning their opera-trained voices for their upcoming

big day at the historic Plaza Theater next week.


Seven El Paso Independent School District students are part of the 17-member group of

singers from the Youth Opera of El Paso who will perform with saxophonist Dave Koz during

his holiday concert on Dec. 15.

“Singing with Dave Koz is such an honor,” said Julia Annabi, a Coronado High School freshman.

“It is an opportunity and a blessing. A kid my age could only dream of being on stage with

such a talented musician.”

Like the other members of the Youth Opera, Coronado High 
junior Austin Nakamoto has

been busy preparing for the concert by practicing and memorizing the music. 

“Singing with Dave Koz means that I get to have an amazing opportunity to work with a

professional singer who travels the nation,” Nakamoto said. 

The Youth Opera of El Paso will open the show with the world premiere of the song

“Graceful” by Canadian composer Martha Hill Duncan, which was specifically written for

the occasion. Later in the show, the Youth Opera will perform a special arrangement of

“Let it Go” with Koz.

“The type of opportunity this creates for my students is almost indescribable,” Artistic Director Kimberley Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto said. “Many Youth Opera of El Paso singers plan to pursue music beyond high school, so collaborations with artists of this caliber help our students stand out in a highly competitive field.” 

At last year’s show, the Youth Opera performed with Christopher Cross, who himself is a Grammy, Golden Globe, and Oscar winner.

Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto said the opportunity last year to perform with Koz came about after the group was featured in the El Paso Symphony’s performances of “Carmina Burana.” They also have performed in El Paso Opera productions of “La Boheme” and “Tosca.” Most of the students singing at next week’s show performed with Koz last year.

“This is my second year singing with Dave, and we have more complex music this year,” said Nathan Thompson, a Canyon Hills Middle School sixth grader. “I think that Dave Koz is amazing on the saxophone, and I listen to his music all the time.”

Not feeling well, Wiggs Middle School sixth grader Mia Lacaze sat across from the group resting her instrument while listening in and jotting notes as they rehearsed. She lit up when asked about the Koz concert. 

“I’m both nervous and excited because we’re out there with someone professional who has been doing this all his years,” said Lacaze, who also performed last year with Koz. “It’s so much fun. There’s so much energy backstage.”

The excitement and experiences for this group does not end with the Koz performance. Their talent will be showcased next year in New York City for a collaboration with Broadway greats Georgia Stitt and Lisa Franklin in Stitt’s new musical: “Samantha Spade, Ace Detective.” In 2017, the group will travel to Ireland for another world-premiere children’s opera. 

In the past two years, the Youth Opera of El Paso has performed at national and world-premiere performances in New York City and Toronto of “Searching the Painted Sky,” an original children’s opera written specifically for them by Martha Hill Duncan and Janet Windeler Ryan. 

“I believed that being in this company would not only give me opportunities to perform, but also to meet people who share my passion,” said Hannah Tuttle, a Morehead Middle eighth grader. “Being in the Youth Opera of El Paso has made a huge impact on my life and I am so happy to be a part of a wonderful singing family.”

The Youth Opera of El Paso has given students opportunities to learn and grow musically. 

When Nakamoto was a freshman, he sang for internationally known mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and the Dean of Opera from the Manhattan School of Music. “He asked me to audition for their school when I was old enough,” Nakamoto said.

Other EPISD students in the Youth Opera of El Paso singing with Koz are Dawsen Rystad, a freshman at Andress High School, and Isabella Morales, an eighth grader at Wiggs Middle School.

Students with the Youth Opera of El Paso prepare to sing with Grammy Winning Artist Dave Koz
Soloist Austin Nakamoto prepares to sing with Grammy Winning Artist Dave Koz

Youth Opera of El Paso to perform in New York City

 El Paso Inc. What’s Up 

By Maggie Asfahani Hajj    Jan 8, 2014 

It isn’t often that the chance to perform a custom-made production

comes along, but a lucky group of young El Pasoans will have just

that opportunity.  The Youth Opera of El Paso will be performing

“Searching the Painted Sky,” an opera written especially for the group,

at the National Opera Association Convention in New York City on

Friday and Saturday, Jan. 10-11.


“When we sang at the 2011 convention, Martha Hill Duncan, who is a major composer in Canada, and becoming more and more important in the United States, was there,” said Youth Opera director Kimberley Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto.  “She fell in love with the kids, fell in love with what we were doing, went back and sat down with her librettist, Janet Windeler Ryan, and said, ‘We’ve got to write an opera for these kids.’”

The opera, which took two years to write, is a magical adventure of exploration and human discovery, according to Ryan. “Searching the Painted Sky” is the story of two sisters, an older teenager and a young girl, who have lost their mother to illness and are now living in poverty with their father. After a run-in with an exotic fortune teller, the elder daughter’s life takes a turn into fantasy, complete with strange, funny and fantastical characters.

“Kim and I became acquainted after she began teaching my art songs to her vocal students,” said composer Martha Hill Duncan.  The composer, who originally is from Texas and who has family in San Antonio and Austin, met with Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto at the NOA Convention in San Antonio in 2011. After hearing the children perform, Duncan said she could not resist the opportunity to compose a piece for the group.

“I loved working with them in El Paso and believe that they’ll be doing a fantastic job at their premiere in NYC next week,” Duncan said. “I’d love the opportunity to work more with Kim and her group with possible new storylines.”

The Youth Opera, which is not affiliated with El Paso Opera, began in 2010, when Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto, a voice teacher, along with her teacher and mentor Dr. Chris Meerdink, assistant professor at West Texas A&M, saw the need to bring opera to a younger audience. Many grand operas not only deal with themes that are difficult for children to comprehend, said Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto, but they are usually not written in English. The Youth Opera’s focus is to educate audiences through stories that children can relate to, in a language they understand, and most importantly, through productions performed by their peers, she said.

The group has already performed an abridged version of “Hansel and Gretel,” “Les Miserables” and “Godspell” and hopes to secure the Philanthropy Theatre at the Plaza Theatre in March for an El Paso showing of “Under the Painted Sky.”  Although the New York performance is a major milestone for the Opera, Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto sees it as part of a continuation of the group’s mission to save an art form as well as to create lifelong fans.

“There is resistance in young people to opera,” she said. “They don’t know what opera is, but they know they don’t like it. And that’s what we’re combatting; that’s what we’re up against. And if we’re going to save this art form in this country, we’ve got to start with these young ones.  “They don’t have a way to connect, so they grow up not even really knowing what opera is, but already feeling disconnected,” Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto continued. “What a shame, because [opera’s] whole purpose was to preserve the human experience. [Children] are a part of that, and we have to make a place for them in that.”

Students with the Youth Opera of El Paso travel to New York City to premier the children's opera "Searching The Painted Sky" at the National Opera Association Convention, which was written specifically for YOEP!

"Little Women: The Broadway Musical"

Cindy Graff Cohen

El Paso Inc. July 2019

In one of the year's most interesting collaborations, three diverse arts

organizations for young people are combining forces to present

"Little Women: The Broadway Musical" at El Paso Community College

July 19-21.

One group focuses on acting, one trains singers, and one teaches dance

- put them all together and you have what it takes for a musical. 

Last month, they launched the El Paso Summer Musical Theatre Intensive

- six weeks of theatre, singing, and dance classes and activities for

children and teenagers. 

ActorSpace, offering acting lessons and workshops is represented by its

founder, Greg Thompson, as the director, choreographer, and theatre instructor. 

Youth Opera of El Paso's Artistic Director, and founder, Kimberley Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto is the program's music director and voice instructor.

KidsExcel is represented by dancer Stephanie Rangel as the show's dance instructor and associate choreographer. 

The theatre intensive musical camp ends in a public production of the 2005 Broadway show adapted from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women".

At 150 years old, the beloved novel continues to draw readers, especially young girls asking themselves which March sister they resemble: romantic Meg, independent Jo, sweet Beth, or artistic Amy, the spoiled baby of the family. 

Youth Opera of Ell Paso students perform Little Women at the El Paso Community College theatre.


By resident Morgan Bally

Westside Living Magazine, August 2019 edition

Meet Morgan Baily,

My name is Morgan Baily, and I am 14 years old. I am going into my sophomore year at Coronado

High School, and I am the youngest child out of five. My siblings are Eoin (Brooks), Brighid,

Padraic and Molly, My lovely parents are John and Colleen Baily. We have a small herd of dogs

named Amber, Shaska, Libby and Finn. My family moved from Colorado Springs to El Paso in

2010, so we have been here for about nine years.

Of the main four academic subjects, I would say my favorite subject in school has to be English,

because I love to read and I enjoy dissecting stories and the meanings behind them.  At my

school, I am an officer of the Coronado choir and I participate in the Coronado Thunder Theater.

When I am not at school, I like to play with my dogs, read, and hang out with my friends, and of

course, I also sing and act outside of school. 

I am proud to participate in several performance organizations, the largest being Youth Opera of

El Paso (YOEP), run by Artistic Director, Kimberley Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto. I have been a part of YOEP for four years; I joined when I was 11 years old. One of my favorite things about being a YOEP kid is the friends I have made throughout the years, including my best friend Brooke! I have also been given many performance experiences, such as being in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and Georges Bizet's "Carmen".  With Mrs. Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto's training, I have been able to perform in other musicals with other companies such as "Fiddler on the Roof" with the UTEP Dinner Theater as Shprientza, "Heathers: The Musical" with the Coronado Thunder Theater as Veronica Sawyer, and now "Little Women" as Jo March with Youth Opera of El Paso’s, summer musical theater intensive. 


Keeping school and theater balanced has been hard, but thanks to my mom, I am learning how to balance all my responsibilities. When I finish high school, I plan on going to college to pursue a degree in vocal performance with a minor in theater. If I had to choose someone to be my ultimate role model, I would have to choose my mother, Colleen, because she never lets me start something and not finish it. She supports me no matter what and she is always there to be a shoulder to cry on, and she helps me back up when I fall down. She has taught me to be kind and compassionate to others. I look forward to continuing to grow and mature in theater and vocal performance, as well as life. 

Soprano Morgan Baily shares her passion for singing with the Youth Opera of El Paso.
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