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MID-WILSHIRE : Ketchum 'Y' Choir Ready to Hit the Road

July 18, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

In the tradition of old films in which the answer to many a predicament was to put on a show, the youths of the Ketchum YMCA Show Choir will raise money for a California tour with a performance Wednesday at a Downtown restaurant.

The scheduled tour, with stops from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, would be the first trip out of Los Angeles for most of the choir members, and could end with an audition for a chance to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall.

The choir's 18 members, age 7 to 15, rehearse daily at the YMCA's Westlake satellite facility in the First Baptist Church under the direction of Miguel Munoz, who founded the choir three years ago. He was 14 at the time.

"Come on, get with it," Munoz said as he guided his flock through his choreography to music from "The Wiz." "Smile. I've got to see your expression," he said as he backpedaled in front of his dancers.

At 17, Munoz is not much older than the choir members he refers to as "my kids," but they follow his lead. "They can't psych me out," he said. "I know what they're going through, how hard it is sometimes in school, at home, on the streets."

Munoz grew up in Mid-Wilshire, and although his family recently moved to the Temple City area, he comes back to the YMCA every day after school and on Saturdays for choir practice.

"We moved because of the violence, but I couldn't leave the Y," he said. "If I left, the music program would fall apart. I have to stay for my kids."

Maria Elena Venegas, site supervisor at the YMCA's Westlake facility, said Munoz was talking about dropping out of Berendo Junior High School when she met him about three years ago. She got him a part-time job cleaning up at the Y but soon discovered his musical talent after listening to him play the piano. So she put him in charge of the music program and he hasn't hit a wrong note since.

"He loves music," Venegas said. "He does everything for music and he works extra hours to prepare the kids."

Gloria Soto, mother of two choir members and president of the parents' booster club, said she and other parents are "very proud of Mr. Munoz's efforts. He goes the extra mile." To show their support, the booster club is also raising money for the choir's tour.

The YMCA is so impressed with the choir's positive effect on the kids that they have asked Munoz to start another choir at the Ketchum South Teen Center at 1010 8th Place. He also plans to begin a choir for children as young as 5 at the Westlake YMCA.

Robert Wilkins, executive director of the Weingart Urban Center YMCA, helped set up the Westlake YMCA branch and agreed to hire Munoz.

"He is mature beyond his years," said Wilkins, who recalled that Munoz also started English as a Second Language classes for kids at the YMCA. "He has a desire to go and do something for other people. That's a quality that sets him apart from other kids and most adults."

Alice Avery, 12, the choir president, and Amber Munoz, 11, Miguel's sister, agree that Munoz is strict, but they don't mind.

"It's a lot of work, but it's worth it," Alice said. "We're all together doing fun things."

The choir's noon performance on Wednesday in front of McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant at 600 Hope Place is one of several "Christmas in July" events this week sponsored by the restaurant to raise money for the choir's tour July 23 to Aug. 1. The restaurant will also host a bake sale, a fashion show and other promotions to benefit the choir.

The choir needs about $9,000 and has already raised $3,000, Munoz said. If all goes as planned, at the end of the tour the choir will audition in San Francisco for an Easter concert at Carnegie Hall.

Information: (213) 388-2330 or (213) 624-2348.

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