BENICIA (CBS SF) — A group of Bay Area children will be heading to the London Summer Olympics this summer—not for athletic competition, but for vocal performances.

Members of the Benicia-based children’s choir Voices of Eve ‘N Angels, better known as VOENA, will sing at the passing of the torch in London next month.

Thanks to praise VOENA received in 2009 while representing the United States at South Africa’s biggest cultural heritage festival, the Soweto Music Festival, the group’s name came up when Olympic organizers in London began searching for a multi-cultural, multi-lingual ensemble, director Annabelle Marie said.

With its eclectic repertoire—ranging from classical to jazz to folk, of songs sung in at least 20 different languages—VOENA fit that bill, she said.

“We’re very, very versatile,” she said. “But our specialty is in a capella world music.”

The group learned in November that it had been invited to sing at the ceremonies after enduring a six-month screening that was “quite the submission process,” Marie said.

Established in 1994, VOENA has grown to 140 members’ ages 5 to 18, 55 of whom will make the trip to London next month.

But with such short notice, the group found it difficult to raise enough money to enable all of its singers to participate in the Olympic performance.

“Because it was so last minute, really, we didn’t have that much time,” Marie said. “Of course we wish we could take everyone. But we’re appreciative of what we have been able to get.”

Last month, the choir held a benefit concert at Napa’s Uptown Theatre to raise money for their travels, among other events. The group also plans to hold an online auction on July 1.

In total, its fundraising efforts have yielded $35,000 in donations, which covers most but not all of the travel costs.

VOENA children’s choir is a professional program for children ages 5 through 18 that teaches its members an appreciation and enthusiasm for different languages and cultures through performance of ethnically diverse music.

“It’s a very magical, special group,” Marie said.

The choir sings in a myriad of languages, some of which were requested by VOENA singers who have expressed an interest in their heritages, including Zulu, Persian, Ukrainian, Arabic and Quebecois, among others.

Aside from its unique musical attributes, the multi-cultural group also redefines the genre by incorporating dance and theatrical elements as well as colorful costumes into its performances.

VOENA prides itself on its uniqueness. “Just as Cirque du Soleil has redefined ‘circus,’ VOENA has redefined ‘choir,’” said Marie, who raised her three sons in the circus. “It’s even hard to call it that word, ‘choir.’”

While its stop in London is one of many international trips for the local performance troupe, which has traveled to China, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico and South Africa, Marie said it is the choir’s first Olympic performance.

Upon learning that they would sing at the passing of the torch, the children screamed so loud that the adults had to hold their ears, she said. “I don’t think there’s a word to describe it. They’re just thrilled.”

The choir will make three performances in England. In addition its Olympic performance, VOENA will share the stage with one of their inspirations—Mediaeval Baebes—and sing at a United Nations Association Event at Central Hall Westminster, both on July 26.

Marie said Mediaeval Baebes had reached out her because some of the members of the U.K.’s top selling classical ensemble had seen some of its songs “VOENA-ized.”

“They were just thrilled,” she said. “It’s a great collaboration, because both groups celebrate diversity.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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