Triplets Maggy, Mary and Marta Moipei caused quite a stir when they turned up at Broadway Nights, the cabaret series, during its run of shows at the St. Anthony Hotel in March.
The St. Mary’s University vocal performance students, who are from Kenya, came for the open mic portion of the evening. Video shot that night shows them clustered close together around a single microphone, delivering a gorgeous, goosebump-inducing take on “By Your Side” from the musical “Godspell.”
The video was posted on social media, where it caught the attention of Mark Richter, founder and general director of Alamo City Opera.
“I was just blown away by the perfection of the voices and the harmonies, and I started making inquiries,” Richter said. “I realized that if people are here to help other people, and if I’m in a position where I can help them go to the next stage of their career by helping them with TV and concerts and managing them a little bit, then I want to do that.
“Their talent is undeniable. Everywhere they’ve performed, the crowds go crazy because of the virtuosity of their performance. It’s amazing.”
Richter now represents the 23-year-old vocalists, who perform as the Moipei Sisters. They are celebrating the release of their new CD, “Wish Upon a Star,” with a concert Saturday at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
Performing at the downtown hall was one of their goals when they moved to San Antonio in 2014, along with visiting the River Walk, performing in a musical and singing for the Spurs.
They’ve done all of those things.
They came to San Antonio specifically to study at St. Mary’s, where they are now in their junior year. Father Martin Solma, provincial of the Marianist Province of the United States, which includes the university, became close to the Moipei family during his years living in Kenya, and he talked up St. Mary’s to them. He also spoke to university officials about the sisters’ impressive talent.
“We had made a small demo CD, and he came and he played it for the president of St. Mary’s and the board of trustees and they liked it,” Maggy said. “So we visited here in 2014, and we had a dinner where we sang for them and did a short presentation, and they liked it. So we came here.
“We liked it, also. It was a two-way thing.”
The vivacious young women grew up singing with their sister Seraphine, who is two years younger and now works as a teacher in Kenya. Their parents, Christine and Nicholas, are both singers. Nicholas, who is also a piano teacher, taught them classical pieces, show tunes, African-American spirituals and African songs, among other material. They sang around the house from the time they were tiny, making their first public appearance singing at their first communion at the age of 7.
Marta, Maggy said, forgot some of the lyrics.
“I was just scared,” Marta said. “All I used to do was sing in the kitchen. And then suddenly I was singing in front of all these people looking at me.”
Soon, they were performing for corporate events and at music festivals and competitions, which they often dominated. They had fun doing it, they said, but were always serious about the music. And their parents backed them all the way.
“They are the coolest parents in the world,” Marta said.
“Because they never forced us to do music,” Maggy said. “They just let it grow. They were always there to support, and that’s the best thing.”
Their first trek abroad was to South Korea, where they represented Kenya at a UNICEF festival for young people.
“It was our first time being away from home and performing for an audience that was not Kenyan,” Mary said.
It went well: “I remember them liking it,” Maggy said. “We were voted best performers the first night. And I didn’t think it would happen, but it did! That was nice!”
They took two years off from their education after high school, focusing on performing while they decided what they wanted to do.
“I had so many stories of our friends going to college and dropping out or changing their majors so many times. And I just wanted to be sure what I wanted,” Maggy said.
They considered studying psychology or theater, but ultimately their hearts were in music. And they decided the U.S. was where they wanted to study it.
“I don’t quite know why,” Maggy said. “I never had a specific reason. But most of our classmates went to the U.K. And I think that’s when I started saying, ‘Maybe I should go to the other side.’”
St. Mary’s has been a good fit.
“It is a very close-knit community,” Maggy said. “The people were very friendly from the first day. The music department is awesome, and everyone knows everyone.”
They talk to their family in Kenya most days, which has made being apart a little easier.
The hardest thing about the move to Texas — other than adjusting to the heat in August — may have been learning to sing as a trio instead of as a quartet.
“It was empty,” Maggy said. “I remember it being very difficult.”
They had to rebuild their repertoire. When they arrived, they said, they knew three songs arranged for a trio: “Funiculì, Funiculà,” “Lift Thine Eyes” and “Drowning in Dollars.”
They’ve expanded considerably since then, arranging all sorts of songs themselves.
While they’ve been doing that, they also checked off everything on that to-do list they came up with for their time in San Antonio. They’ve visited the River Walk; they performed in the school’s production of “Godspell”; they made their Tobin Center debut at a St. Mary’s event held there; and they sang the national anthem before a Spurs playoff game against the Clippers in April 2015.
“It was out of this world,” Maggy said. “Other than the time that we sang for (Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta’s) inauguration, I had never seen so many people. It was a very humbling experience, when, before we finished singing, they started clapping.”
They sang the notoriously difficult song a cappella, which is their speciality. One of the things that distinguishes them vocally is the tightness of their harmonies. They attribute at least some of that to the fact that they are sisters.
“I think it makes it easier because we are always on the same wavelength about what we want and no one is fighting for the spotlight,” Maggy said. “If you try to fight for the spotlight, just know, it is not going to end well.”
“Everyone is equal,” Mary said.
“We know who does (a particular part) best,” Maggy said. “There is no disagreement. Because most of the time it’s obvious.”
They sing wherever they go, sometimes bursting into song as they walk across campus. And they take every performance opporunity they can manage. They were the featured act at Broadway Nights in June. Video from that evening captured their lively a cappella rendering of “My Shot” from “Hamilton,” which earned them a rapturous response. And they were part of Alamo City Opera’s “Broadway vs. Opera” concert.
Pianist Newhardt has been impressed every time he’s worked with or seen the sisters in action, either onstage or singing songs they make up on the fly in the car.
“You realize you’re in the presence of something great,” he said. “They’re just these sweet, gentle people. There’s no ego whatsoever. This spirit fills them up and comes out.”
When they finish their studies at St. Mary’s, the triplets hope to go to graduate school. And then their plan is to return to Kenya, where they hope to open their own music school.
“We always say we want to work hard so that we can take something back to Kenya,” Maggy said.