“No audition required” describes the dream maker that is Annabelle Marie. All are welcome to travel the world and join the power of music in vanishing barriers. To world leaders, social influencers and international audiences goes Benicia’s VOENA choir. Where professional dignitaries fall short these ‘children’ sing loudly in native language to a world that understands each other and can work together. Much has been written about VOENA’s global accomplishments. Little however has been said about the wonder behind the curtain that is its director, Annabelle Marie.
Annabelle recalls beginning violin at seven to play a joke on her father. “She’s too good for just a joke” the teacher insisted. Annabelle studied as the family of five children traveled Southeast Asia with their Air Force father. Upon landing at Sacramento State she was initially denied entry to the music program.
After three days of being rebuffed, she was finally given a moment to change the directors mind: “Will you do whatever I say and if not, you’re out?” Annabelle assured him she would. For three years, six hours per day, Annabelle practiced with masking tape holding her left wrist and right fingers in position. She went on to complete her Masters in Music at Holy Names College.
Annabelle also studied voice under the guidance of Judy Davis (Streisand, Sinatra, Mary Martin, Eddie Money) and continues teaching Davis’ technique to this day. In a previous life she sang back up for Dan Hicks. When Dan gave the ultimatum of Hicks or VOENA she made her choice and never looked back.
Annabelle’s start and final ovation is credited to husband Dale Robbins. He is an Engineer with Kaiser, Vallejo, and worked with The Giants as they opened Pac Bell Park. Dale’s fully supportive and as Annabelle referenced him in the audience, “He’s a proud grown man who cries.” They had three boys. They would become the seeds of VOENA.
Creating a legacy
Annabelle created her first vocal group with her sons, Francisco, Raphael and Dominic. All three became acrobats and coaches for Cirque Du Soleil. Dominic formed the five member “Back Pocket Circus” which Cirque hired for “Luzia”, San Francisco. Francisco and Raphael debuted “Traces” with Cirque, a show by the group “Seven Fingers.” Raphael was an actor in Chicago, and played the lead in Cirque’s “Amaluna” currently playing San Francisco. Being taken by a congenital heart defect in Paris, 2017 his spirit flies again.
Annabelle continued her storied career of teaching anyone committed to singing. She asks for a commitment to three specific things: Accept the challenge, self-motivate, and embrace hard work. Through this Annabelle has brought her voices to Carnegie Hall, The Vatican, The Olympic Games and the Clinton and Bush White Houses. Traveling the globe they’ve performed in China, Mexico, Italy, Japan, Abu Dhabi and Croatia. Annabelle sees a “worldwide citizenry” crossing language barriers through singing. Recently Croatia was on its feet after VOENA sang a Croatian tune in native Croatian. “American music is so cool!” they effused. “Thank You for loving ours!”
Telling a story is perhaps the most important part of music. It’s the telling of truth yet more, how it felt. Somewhere just beyond “Come Together” and “Let It Be” are voices erasing borders. A world that takes the best of each voice and communicates a new civilization. Done by those who didn’t even think they could sing. Peace.
VOENA’s “Voices Of The Season” concerts: Lincoln Theater, Yountville, 12/1. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Pleasant Hill, 12/8. Empress Theatre, Vallejo, 12/15. Tickets VOENA.org