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Congrats to Destiny Danks for winning Gerling’s 2023 Scholarship!

For the scholarship, students had to create an outstanding blog post summarizing the most positive or influential “Experience” they’ve had thus far in their education. Here is Destiny’s entry.

Senior year is the year of change for every high school student. Preparing for college,
becoming independent, and leaving all we know behind us for an unknown tomorrow.
However, the last semester of my junior year contained the most impactful moment to date
in my educational career. May 13th of 2022, the last night of the Las Vegas Academy Vocal
Departments spring show, “Make Them Hear You”. It was a bittersweet goodbye for the
seniors that night, but it was also the last of the Bella Voz Women’s Choir as the world once
knew it. I was part of the legacy and filled with pride.

How the Tension Rose

I can speak for many others when I say that receiving the acceptance email to Bella Voz was exciting
and relieving. Getting into the Advanced Women’s Ensemble was a great deal and entering as a junior
meant a clear shot to Academy Singers as a senior. “ACAD” was what everyone wanted as their final

As the year progressed, I grew closer to my BV sisters. A year of online education and being separated
from my friends due to the pandemic put a halter on all of our relationships. Getting to sing with them
felt loving, safe, and alive. The last quarter of the year came fast, and although we were all sad to
perform for the last time as BV, we were thrilled to be so close to receiving an ACAD jacket and joining
the junior boys who had already made it up there.

But one day, our choral director, Mrs.Franke, gathered Bella Voz and Konzert Chorale (the Intermediate
Mixed Ensemble) into the same room for a meeting. Which was normal, but she looked more serious
than usual. She explained that there would be a change in the vocal department. To make a long story
short, she was removing Les Chanteuses (the Beginning/Intermediate Women’s Ensemble) and
replacing it with BV. But in effect, this was basically removing the Advanced Women’s Ensemble and
renaming Les Chanteuses as Bella Voz. Now, the top two choirs were Konzert Chorale and ACAD. But
Academy Singers was being reduced to a smaller, more elite chamber choir.

“When I told them I watched their hearts drop.” is what Mrs.Franke told the junior boys in ACAD after
having the meeting with us. It was true that we had felt disappointed. We cherish the Advanced Bella
Voz, and it was an honor to achieve this spot; we were sad to see it go. But this new change also meant
that our internal audition meant more. We were no longer just showing what we had learned and how
we had improved before getting admitted into ACAD. We were now fighting for the limited amount of
spots open for us, and our friends had become our competition.

The End of a Legacy

Weeks passed, and we were inching toward our spring show. We had put together an amazing setlist. I
was given a lead solo in the show’s “Opening Up” number from Waitress. It was exhilarating knowing
that Mrs.Franke trusted me enough to be the opener and the first voice anyone heard. I was setting
the start of the show, and being given this responsibility made me feel more secure in my spot for

By the middle of the first night of the show, we had realized that this wasn’t just our last performance
together as a choir with our senior friends. But it was also the last of a very long line of Bella Voz
women who worked so hard for their spots and achieved unthinkable things. Realizing this empowered
us to give even more in our performance. We had a reputation to uphold and a duty to the girls who
came before us to finish it in an impactful way. We all agreed, there could be no mistakes.

The first night went incredibly well, and we were pumped for the Friday night showing as there would
naturally be more people in the audience. My parents and sisters would be attending tonight, and I
couldn’t wait for them to experience it. After our “Hamilton Women” number, we rushed to get into
costume for our last number, “Sanctuary” by Jason Robert Brown. This piece was supposed to be
performed very emotionally to go along with the lyrics:

“I am searching for sanctuary. Will you shelter me?”

As we set the stage, I could feel the pressure on our shoulders. This was it, the last time a Bella Voz of
our kind would show the world what we have done. The music started, and we began to sing and
carefully went through our choreography. This song held a very difficult run for the other sopranos
and me. As we began the run, the power went out, and the music stopped. But the lights were still up,
and the audience was still there. We all simultaneously took a slight beat of fear and continued to sing
and dance. We sang louder to the back of the house because the mics had cut out. I stood in the front
row, and when we finally sang the chorus line again, I could feel the energy of my sisters behind me.
We followed our choreography and huddled together. Now that we were closer, I could hear that we
were singing through tears. Our dynamics had shifted, and we were singing in a small pianissimo. I felt
a hand on my shoulder, as I always did at this point, but this time, it held onto me tightly. The number
ended, and the crowd roared. The lights went out, and we fell into each other’s arms as we rushed off

This performance helped us to remember that we are a family and that music is what should bring us
together. For the last few weeks, it had been the sole thing that divided us into a competition.
Ultimately, every Bella Voz girl that has ever been would be proud of what we created

Author Photo

Gayle Gerling Pettinga

Born and raised in Evansville, Gayle is a respected, experienced lawyer and a valued community leader. She graduated near the top of her class at Indiana University’s prestigious Maurer School of Law. She’s practiced law with one of the largest firms in Indianapolis as well as one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. And that means she knows how big law firms and big companies think and how they operate – and she will put that knowledge to work for you.

Gayle has received numerous awards and honors including Martindale-Hubbell — Peer Review Rated: AV®, American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys 10 Best Attorneys in Indiana for Exceptional and Outstanding Client Service, and YWCA Evansville 100 Years, 100 Women Honoree, 2011.

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