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Choral coach teaches life skills, grows students

After singing in front of thousands in New York’s Carnegie Hall in April 2018, the girl’s ensemble prepares for festival performances in at the FPU Music Festival, Oct. 18, and in Santa Barbara later this month. The campus’ ensemble, Bellezza, welcomes new talent and aims for the highest scores possible.

Choral director Susan Ainley has high hopes for this year’s team. She believes the ensemble group name “Bellezza”, meaning “beauty” in Italian, shows how much practice is put in to create a sound of beauty.

Danielle Foster | The Feather Online

Bellezza ensemble plans to attend the Westmont Choral Festival in Santa Barbara, Oct. 26.

“If you’re a singer and you love to sing then you need to be the ensemble,” Ainley said. “We’re going to sharpen your skills and you’re going to sing advanced music. If you’re a person who loves to sing but has not had the opportunity, then you will grow and become the singer you never thought you could be.”

Ready for new opportunities, Ainley strives to replace former senior members. With a limited amount of spots, she thought about what the group needed to continue excelling. Each student is chosen for a various reason and plays a vital role in the ensemble’s success.

Ainley appreciates the hard work of incoming ensemble singer Aimee Castañeda, ‘21. After losing a low alto singer from the previous year, Ainley shares how she knew Castaneda was the right choice to replace the Alto 2.

“Aimee Castañeda was one that I asked to audition because she wasn’t going to,” Ainley said. “I knew she was a great musician from choir and band. When I had her in choir, I could hear that she had a really rich, low alto voice. When we lost a second alto, senior McKensy (Neal) who was a powerhouse, I knew I needed to replace her. When Aimee came in to audition, I asked her to sing as low as she could and when she could do everything I asked her to, I found that person. She understands what I need and everyday she strives to do her best and learn.”

Castañeda believes that singing in ensemble will open up more singing opportunities. Her vocal abilities broadened in the first few months of practicing and she looks forward to seeing her talent flourish.

“When Mrs. Ainley asked me to tryout,” Castañeda said, “I decided I would because I wanted to keep singing and I like singing as a group. I’ve only been in choir, and I sing at my church, so this is a new experience. I’ve learned how to sing differently and Mrs. Ainley is really challenging me to sing different notes and parts. I have learned how to make new friends because we all bond together. My favorite thing is when the song is all done and we sing it all together. You can hear every single part and how it mixes together; it sounds really good.”

Senior Macie Thompson also stands out to Ainley as a light on campus and a guide to others who share her passion. Macie has sung with Ainley for 11 years and developed new skills under her leadership.

“I’ve been teaching Macie since she was in first grade,” Ainley said. “She’s been gifted since day one, there’s no doubt this girl can sing. She sings all the time, in the hallways, at home, and in the car. She’s also a really kind person who cares about everyone and loves the Lord.

“Her strength in ensemble is not just the fact that I can give her anything to sing and she will nail it, but she also is our glue and keeps us focused,” Ainley continued. “She is a person who even though she’s sang for me all these years, has her pencil out in class and is writing in her music what she needs to fix and doesn’t wait for me to tell her.”

Thompson received special life skills and numerous friendships after being apart of Bellezza. She shares her favorite parts of the group over the years.

“I have been apart of ensemble throughout all of high school,” Thompson said. “I have gained so much from it such as being able to work well with others and adjusting to new situations. My favorite part about ensemble is the friendships you gain with people. After high school music wise, I am planning to be apart of my church’s college worship team and to move up from there.”

Bellezza plans to sing three times this fall. Alongside the FC choir, ensemble will perform at the FPU Music Festival at North Fresno MB Church, Oct. 18, and at the Fall Concert on campus, Oct. 22.

Bellezza alone will be traveling to Santa Barbara to participate in the Westmont Choral Festival, Oct. 26. Schools around Westmont and Los Angeles are the main focus at the festival, making FC one of the only participants from the Central Valley. Advanced private schools and large public schools attend and Bellezza annually receives high ratings. 

In the following podcast, Morgan Parker interviews Angelica Escalera, ’19, about why she joined the Bellezza ensemble, Oct. 1.

In spring, junior high choir, high school choir, and Bellezza will travel to Anaheim to participate in the Heritage Festival, April 5-6. The choirs compete against 50 other schools for plaques and trophies. 

Two years ago in Anaheim, Bellezza competed against 50 schools all over the western United States and received the highest score of any school; a 98 over 100. Bellezza strives to achieve the same score this year by practicing every day and working to get better.

Danielle Foster | The Feather Online

Choral directer, Susan Ainley, prepares the Bellezza group for upcoming fall performance, Oct. 26.

Angelica Escalera, ‘19, lives out her dream of being in the girl’s ensemble at FCS. She has been included in all the activities and makes new friendships along the way.

“I’ve wanted to join ensemble for a while,” Escalera said. “I just never followed through. But with the encouragement of Mrs. Ainley, I finally made the decision to join. I’ve learned a lot so far music wise, like range and singing in general. My favorite part is bonding with the girls and learning new music.”

Ainley has been the ensemble director for five years. She enjoys the family feeling of ensemble, shaping young adults into great singers and building a sisterhood. She loves getting to know the girls personally and help mentor them throughout high school.

“I enjoy ensemble because it’s an all women group and we get to explore the range not just musical skills,” Ainley said. “We’re also super close and get to support each other through the ups and downs of high school. It’s a great benefit, I think everyone should have a group like that in high school.”

For more information about joining ensemble or future trips, contact Susan Ainley by email at

For more ensemble articles, check out Campus choral groups to sing in historic Carnegie Hall. For another article, read Homecoming Happily Ever After: 34th annual FC homecoming.

Morgan Parker can be reached via email and via Twitter.

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