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In 2014, I was invited to attend a performance of a group called “Huls Angels”. This was a group of young women who had graduated from Samohi (Santa Monica High School) the previous year, and had been so inspired by their choral director that they got together from near and far the summer following graduation, to produce their own choral program in his honor. That choral director was Jeffe Huls. I thought to myself that Mr. Huls must have been an extraordinary director and teacher. Many, many years ago, I was myself a member of the Chorus and Madrigal Singers at Samohi, so I’m familiar first-hand with the rigors of being in such an elite group of singers.

Documentarian Varda Bar-Kar wrote and directed the documentary Big Voice, about Huls, the same celebrated choral director at Samohi. Recently I was privileged to watch this film. Bar-Kar had first heard stories about Mr. Huls when her two daughters were in middle school. She was planning her daughters’ future high school classes and did research on the teaching staff at Samohi. Huls’ reputation stood out. At the same time she had been asked as a local filmmaker, to become involved in bringing great arts education into Santa Monica schools.

She remembers the first time she saw Huls. She was walking up a pathway at Samohi and passed a young man dressed so elegantly that he seemed completely out of place at the campus with its relaxed, beach-style atmosphere. Later she attended a performance of one of his musical groups and was transfixed. She was amazed that he was able to extract an almost professional level of musical art from kids whose personalities and focus were not yet completely formed. “What obstacles must this man face daily in his quest for excellence?” she wondered. She then decided that she wanted to make a documentary about his process.

Bar-Kar’s style is not just a straightforward “follow-with-a-camera” concept. She juxtaposes visual ideas and thoughts over the narrative to illustrate her points. Big Voice is a documentary about Mr. Huls, yet not only about him – it’s about his students, the love they develop for their art form, and the friendships they form in the process. The film specifically follows the elite group of students who form the school’s Madrigals Choral Ensemble.

Big Voice is a testament to the value of an arts education as it relates to a student’s development in math, science and English curriculums. Several of the seniors in the group went on to great colleges and universities to major in science and other academic pursuits. The film is also a wonderful study in teaching insight. Huls is in his eleventh year as Director of Vocal Music and Performing Arts Chair at Santa Monica High School. Each year he is faced with the difficulties inherent in motivating a new group of talented high school students, all at various stages of maturity, to focus on making music together at the same time – one Big Voice. This dilemma is the pulse of the story, both for him and for his students. If you are or have ever been a parent, a teen or a teacher, in any curriculum, watching this movie will be a valuable experience.

83 Minutes

Not Rated/ Documentary

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. For previously published reviews see