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Teenage boys are often uncomfortable singing in public. So when Gail Bowers, choral teacher at Maria Carrillo High School, started a men's choir, she didn't know how big a turnout to expect.

She got 14 singers, a decent start.

"I credit it to a boy who was the quarterback for our football team. He was this very popular athlete that joined the choir, and I think he opened the gate to say, &‘Hey, everybody, this is OK,'" Bowers said.

"Now, four years later, I have 61 boys in men's choir,' she added. "It has just exploded."

Maria Carrillo High School has five choirs, with a total of nearly 200 voices, all directed by Bowers.

"There's something about teenagers," she said. "I love this age group. I teach in a situation where every kid wants to be there. They signed up for choir."

Bowers, 47, has been teaching choir since 1997 at Carrillo, where she is director of the choral program and head of the visual and performing arts department, which includes seven other teachers.

During her career there, she has collected some honors, winning the California Music Educators' Choir Director of the Year award in 2006, and the Norcal Band and Choral Directors Association's Music Director of the Year award earlier this year.

And three of her former students have won national attention. Ben McLain, Jessica Freedman and Paul Peglar, now in their 20s, earned a spot last season on the NBC-TV series "Sing Off," as part of the Los Angeles professional vocal ensemble, Sonos.

"Gail Bowers is a beacon of musical education for Santa Rosa," McLain said. "She believes in her students' abilities and expects them to act like professionals. Therefore we become professionals. The standards she sets for her students are at least college level and beyond."

The Carrillo choirs present eight public concerts a year, and attendance goes well beyond the proud parents of the singers.

"I've had people come up to me and tell me they've never had a kid in my program, but they come to all my concerts," Bowers said.

Bowers' singers will be among those performing next Sunday for the opening weekend of the new Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.

In her first two years at Carrillo, Bowers split her time between the high school and two Santa Rosa middle schools, first Slater and then Rincon Valley, before taking a full-time position at the high school. She believes she belongs on a high school faculty.

"I think I have a bit of sarcasm in my humor. The middle school kids never got it, but the high school kids just eat it up. They think it's fun," Bowers said.

"When you've taught this long, there's a tradition. The word of mouth is that this is a really fun class, and yet it's really structured. There is no down time," she added. "The fun of this class is producing amazing music, not hanging out with your buddies. That's what lunch and break are for."

Music is much more than a job for Bowers. It's part of her life. She sings in the choir at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Rohnert Park, where she lives with her husband, Carl, a salesman and part-time musician. Their 12-year-old son, Seth, sings and plays saxophone, just like his mom.

"I was in a lot of pageants when I was in college," Bowers said. "I was the runner-up for Miss North Dakota, so performing just became something I had to do all the time."

Bowers grew up in the tiny North Dakota town of Ryder, where she graduated from high school in 1983.

"I'm from a town of 50 people," she said. "I had 16 kids in my graduating class."

She got her bachelor's degree in music from Minot State University in North Dakota and her master's degree in education at Graceland University in Independence, Mo.

She and Carl Bowers met in college, and after he moved to California, she followed. They married in 1989. Before coming to Carrillo, Gail Bowers taught music at Novato High School for eight years.

For Bowers, music class is about more than just music.

"We talk about life lessons in class," she said. "Part of it is because I'm a Midwest kid, and I have a level of ethics that my parents taught me. I'm a hard worker and I'm organized. These are things that I thrive on, and the students see that and pick up on it."

The teacher wants her students to know there is much more to singing than learning the notes. She believes that music is an important part of the human experience.

"A few years ago, we were down in Los Angeles at a national choir competition. We were in a warmup room, getting to go onstage, and I said, &‘We're going to run through this one more time before we go out. I want you to stand in a big circle and hold hands,' and I shut the lights out," Bowers said. "They sang like they had never sung before."

The judges onstage, of course, didn't get to hear that performance, and the one they did hear wasn't the same.

"But we didn't care," Bowers said.

That backstage moment had brought the singers themselves to tears.

"And I said, &‘This is what it's all about,'" Bowers recalled.

(You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. )