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Discover how music education prepared this Uniting Voices alum to be president of her sorority

Balancing a double major, a leadership role in Greek Life and an internship might sound like a lot for one college student, but alum Anita Gandara is doing it all while still finding time to sing.

Anita began her Uniting Voices journey at the Humboldt Park Neighborhood Choir in 2013 before eventually joining Voice of Chicago. She graduated in 2020, and is currently attending Monmouth College, where she’s double majoring in Political Science and Communication Studies. She was recently elected president of her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, and she credits the choir with helping her build the interpersonal and confidence skills to succeed in that position. On top of her coursework and leadership role, she continues to seek and build community by interning at the Champion Miller Center for Equity, Inclusion, and Community and singing as part of the Monmouth College Chorale.

We spoke with Anita about her college experience, tour memories and what she values most about her time in Uniting Voices.

Uniting Voices: How did your experience in Uniting Voices shape the way you imagine your future?

Anita Gandara: My experiences in Uniting Voices taught me how powerful the power of music can be when bringing diverse groups of people together. Everyone in the choir is unique and comes from a number of intersectional backgrounds, but the power of music binds us and helps us connect in ways we can’t otherwise feel.

UV: What was your favorite moment on tour with Uniting Voices?

AG: I went on a total of 5 tours with Uniting Voices: Detroit, MI (2014); Philadelphia, PA (2015); St. Louis, MO (2017); Grand Rapids, MI (2018) and Spain (2019). One of my favorite tour memories was my very first tour in Detroit when we visited the Motown Museum. Seeing the history and culture behind the famous music and artists sparked my love and appreciation for Motown music and artists like the Jackson 5, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and more.

UV: How did your experience in Uniting Voices prepare you to take on a leadership role at Pi Beta Phi?

AG: During my time in Uniting Voices I learned leadership skills in smaller ways like helping my peers work through difficult music or running choreography. After a few years, I became one of the “older singers” in Vivace at Humboldt Park, so many of the other singers relied on me for support both musically and interpersonally. Performing with the choir most significantly helped me in improving my confidence on stage and in learning to read music. My increase in confidence and willingness to work with peers relates closely with my leadership style. I recently became president of my sorority, Pi Beta Phi and having those interpersonal and confidence skills helps me every day in trusting my exec team, my fellow sisters, and even myself to have the courage in making decisions and supporting the rest of my chapter.

UV: How did your time in Uniting Voices influence your desire to intern at the Champion Miller Center for Equity, Inclusion, and Community?

AG: Uniting Voices is such a diverse organization and growing up in Chicago all I ever knew was those strong trends of diversity. When I started at Monmouth College, I experienced culture shock and quickly realized that I would need to find a community in order to succeed in school. This need for a community, like the one I was part of with Uniting Voices, drove my interest in becoming an intern at the Champion Miller Center for Equity, Inclusion, and Community. I work to organize the Women’s Empowerment League and support other affinity groups at Monmouth College to provide students with a safe space and community with people who come from similar backgrounds.

UV: What are you listening to these days?

AG: These days, I listen to a lot of soul pop. It’s essentially a jazzy version of pop with lots of saxophone, trumpets, bass and what I like to call “killer vocals.” Currently my favorite groups are Lawrence and Sammy Rae & The Friends. I love the combination of brass instruments and vocal runs, especially in the morning to start my day.

Anything else you’d like to mention to your fellow alumni?

AG: My time in Uniting Voices was life-changing. Mr. Wallenberg welcomed me with open arms when I was a scared little girl who was unsure if she was good enough for the choir. He taught us folk dances from various countries and drilled music theory in surprisingly fun ways that I still use in my college choir. Ms. Hanson and Ms. Lee saw something in me that I did not see in myself when I doubted if I was good enough to be in VOC, but their willingness and passion for teaching music drove my excitement to come to rehearsal each day. Their dedication, discipline and love for all of us is an experience that I would not trade for the world. It makes me so happy and proud to see the choir continue to grow and flourish with a new generation of strong singers and future leaders.