Evelia Penaloza, center, along with other students, participates in the Pacific Chorale Academy on Wednesday. The after-school music program pairs students from Rea and Pomona Elementary schools in Costa Mesa with vocal instructors from members of the Pacific Chorale. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / April 2, 2014)

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In a classroom full of elementary school students, a vocal instructor pointed at fifth-grader Bryan Agustin, who promptly opened his mouth and sang one word: tuba.

His peers turned to look at him, eyes wide, and surprised by the beautiful sound that escaped from the 11-year-old Pomona Elementary School student.

The exercise of musical categories teaches students how to use their singing instead of speaking voices, said Molly Pontin, executive director at Pacific Chorale.

"He's so talented," she said of Bryan. "But he has no idea yet."

Pacific Chorale launched a new after-school program for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students at Rea and Pomona elementary schools in March. Both Rea and Pomona, located in Costa Mesa's Westside, are Title I schools, meaning that at least 40% of the students' families are economically disadvantaged.

It was important to Pacific Chorale that the schools participating in the new program were from a lower-income area, Pontin said.

"These are the types of kids who don't normally get special stuff," she said. "We wanted to change that."

Parents had the option this year of enrolling their children in the after-school program with Pacific Chorale.

Vocal instructors Kaley Eaton and Renee Cortez, as well as Pontin, host the after-school program twice a week at Rea. The program was inspired by El Sistema, a Venezuelan music education movement founded in 1975 that envisions music as a way to transform communities.

Pontin hopes the after-school lessons will enable students to feel a greater sense of community and boost confidence.

"Anyone can sit in a chair, open up their mouths and sing," she said. "You have to learn not to like to sing."

While most children love to sing in their toddler years, when they get to school they're often discouraged from singing, she said.

"We're reinvigorating these students with a love of singing," she said.

Evelia Penaloza, a fourth-grader at Pomona, was excited to join the program and to be able to sing with her friends without fear of judgment.

"It's fun because no one's going to tell you that you can't sing," she said. "Your friends won't make fun of you."

During the two-and-a-half-hour lesson, students participated in various vocal exercises to improve their singing voices and teach them to read music.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Pacific Chorale instructor Kaley Eaton lined up four pieces of fruit on the floor of a classroom for a vocal exercise.

"Lime, lime, lemoon, orrr-aange," the group of students sang in unison.

By singing the names of the fruit, the students learned rhythm.

Many of the students also participate in choir at their elementary schools, but Pacific Chorale provides a hands-on supplement to their traditional classes, they say.

"We have more time to spend on singing and a lot more teachers who are professionals to help us learn," said Viviana Perez, a fourth-grader at Rea.