Leah Nemerovski was always drawn to music — in middle school, she played trombone and sang in a jazz choir.
But her love for music took a big step up when she joined Youth in Arts. As an eighth grader, she saw one of the Marin County-based organization’s ensembles perform and was sure she’d be singing with them one day.
“From the moment I heard them, I knew that I wanted to be in this incredible group,” Nemerovski, 16, said in a recent phone call from her home in Novato. “They looked like a great group of friends, but they were also so talented. Everyone just sounded amazing.”
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Nemerovski, an alto-tenor, auditioned, began training and became a member of ‘Til Dawn, Youth in Arts’ elite a cappella ensemble under the direction of Austin Willacy. Now a student at Novato High School, she’ll be onstage when ‘Til Dawn appears in “Sing Out!” this weekend at the Marin Country Mart in Larkspur.
A fundraiser for ‘Til Dawn’s scholarship program, Friday’s concert begins at 6 p.m., bringing together singers from the current group along with alumni from past seasons in a 90-minute program spanning original works and classics by Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Gnarls Barkley, Eurythmics, Bill Withers and others. Under Willacy’s direction, the event is available for in-person attendance or via livestream.
Willacy, a professional singer, songwriter, producer and longtime member of the beloved San Francisco-based vocal ensemble the House Jacks, said singing — and live performance — are essential for the young artists he directs.
The nonprofit Youth in Arts organization, he explained, was founded in response to California’s 1978 Proposition 13, which cut arts programs throughout the state. Willacy said the group has made music training possible for many aspiring musicians during the 24 years he’s led the ‘Til Dawn group.
“Since I started, I’ve worked with somewhere between 140 and 150 kids,” said Willacy, a tenor who lives in Berkeley but spends long hours in Marin County working with the year-round teen ensemble, selecting and arranging repertoire, refining programs and leading performances. Most of the ensemble’s members are in high school, but, like Nemerovski, some students start the audition process as early as eighth grade. The group, he notes, is open to all genders.
His efforts have produced a number of singers who have gone on to professional careers but remain in the organization’s alumni group, called Still Dawn.
Several of those singers will appear on Friday’s event along with the current ‘Til Dawn members. Lilan Kane, an Oakland-based singer and composer, will appear in person; New York-based actor and music artist Laura D’Andre is the program’s virtual headliner.
“’Sing Out!’ was created as an opportunity in recognition of the fact that there are enough alumni doing music and doing beautiful things in the world,” Willacy said. “It felt like a great way to reunite the community of alumni, family and friends.”
As a singer, Willacy has performed, recorded extensively and toured with the House Jacks. After 24 years with ‘Til Dawn, he says he derives great satisfaction from seeing his young singers mature and go on to professional careers.
“Working with this group has given me a chance to really focus on the community aspect — the interpersonal harmony aspect — of making music,” he said. “I’m constantly getting feedback from people who see the group and tell me these singers are so poised, so confident. They’re so connected. You can sense that connection, that family bond they have … they bring something of themselves to everything they sing, every time they sing it.”
Willacy recalls something one of the alums told him. “She said that in order to have the best chance of success, teens need three things — a positive peer group, an adult who believes in them and something they know they’re good at,” he said. “I’ve really taken that to heart with this group.”
For Nemerovski, the process of joining ‘Til Dawn has been a revelation. “In the first year, I started learning the repertoire, which was a lot of songs,” she said. “It was really exciting, and we had quite a few performances.”
The onset of COVID cut down on some of the group’s activities, she noted, but the learning continued — singing online, recording, staying connected. Her early music training helped, but “what was different was all the different styles, different types of music. I hadn’t really experienced that. It’s helped me grow as a singer.”
At Friday’s event, she’ll perform in eight songs — and sing solo in one, “Mercy” by Duffy. “It’s a really fun song,” she said. “I sing it often.”
Nemerovski intends to stay in music, although she’s still contemplating what path she’ll take. “I’m looking at music technology,” she said. “To go into sound production, film scores, that kind of stuff is really interesting to me. I’m interested in all the work that goes into making music. So I do plan on continuing.”
The “Sing Out!” fundraiser featuring ‘Til Dawn and special guests, takes place 6 p.m. Friday at Marin Country Mart, 2401 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur. Tickets — $30 for the in-person show, $20 for livestream — can be found at www.marinarts.org.