Friday, May 6, 2011

Frederick's Children Sing

Photos provided courtesy of The Frederick Children's Chorus

     The Frederick Childrens’ Chorus will present their Spring concert, “A World of Song” May 7, 2:30pm at Oakdale High School in Ijamsville.  Director Judy DuBose said that the concert, preformed by children ages 5 to 18, will feature a wide range traditional choral music from all over the world
     “The pieces that we have selected are pieces that are representative of the primary art forms of the various centuries throughout the world,” Mrs. DuBose said.  “Every piece that we’re doing has in some way fed into the art form that we consider music here in the United States, but it’s from all over the world.
     Some of the music will include the Korean folk song “Arirang,” the Italian “Gia Sole Dal Gange,” a Jazz piece called “Mary Had a Little Blues,” several American folks songs and much more.

The Benefits of Chorus
     Participating in music is great for people of all ages, but Mrs. DuBose believes it can play an especially positive developmental role in children. 
     “We haven’t really done the research on it, but we believe that it builds confidence and a sense of understanding teamwork as well as sense of responsibility to another group of people.  It’s not egocentric, it’s very much more a part of being a community,” she said.
     She also said that she believes it improves cognitive and mathematical abilities, as well as providing cultural education.
     “We’re fairly certain that the various cultures and languages that we learn assist children throughout their scholastic development,” she said.  “They can apply it to every facet of their education—everything from literature to world cultures and social studies and sciences and so forth.”

     I was in the Children’s Chorus from ages 12 to 13, and even though I didn’t have a gift for music and didn’t continue my musical education, I took away certain influences from it that have stayed with me until this day.  I still know musical terminology competently enough that I can discuss it when it comes up in conversation, and I can still read music well enough for following a church hymnal.  I also really appreciate some of the solid cultural background that I took from learning foreign-language songs.  I still remember the words to songs Mrs. DuBose taught me in Spanish, Latin, Hebrew, Portuguese, Greek, and Zulu.  I’m convinced that learning music like “Arroz con leche” and “Jubilate Deo” helped me later in my education with both Spanish and Latin class because I was already familiar with the Latin vowel pronunciation scheme.  That is a good thing because the Ph.D. programs to which I am applying require proficiency in Latin.
     Mrs. DuBose said that the alumni of her chorus have gone on to do great things, such as one student who is now a professor of neuroscience at Yale University.

Tradition vs. Modernity    
     In my experience, many choral directors and music teachers think the only way to interest modern students in music is by teaching them how to perform their favorite Pop songs.  The theory is that it’s impossible to get children, especially teenagers, to choose Franz Schubert over Britney Spears.  Mrs. DuBose has not found that to be the case. 
     I asked her how she keeps children interested in traditional music and she said, “You have to keep it alive.  You have to let them be part of what’s alive about it.  So understanding what they’re singing about is a huge part of it.  I think also knowing how to relate to the children and connect it to them, but more than that, just appreciating the art form and recognizing how it fits into the whole world of music and the many periods of music that we’ve lived through.”
     In my opinion, Pop music has its place, but it is not as complex and challenging to developing minds as the pieces they learn in Chorus.  It also doesn’t have the rich history nor contribute as strongly to educating children in cultural diversity as traditional music.  And considering that kids are pretty much bombarded by popular music anyway, the chorus would lose some of its value if it merely taught them what they already hear.
“The children love the music.  When we give them the music and their rehearsal recordings, they come back ready to sing,” Mrs. DuBose said.  “They love the challenge of singing it.  There are other elements that are much harder about running this organization than exciting the children about the music.”

Student Challenges
    In addition to the raw difficulties of leaning music itself, Mrs. DuBose feels that the biggest challenge to the children is simply making the time commitment.  The chorus only meets once a week for rehearsal, but as the students progress from the training chorus into the intermediate and concert choruses, the rehearsal time grows longer and they are expected to do more study and practice in their own time.  Mrs. DeBose says that it can be difficult for many students to make the time for musical study while trying to balance school and other extracurricular activities. 
     “I think that’s very hard these days when kids have so many options and so many activities they want to be involved in,” she said.
Operational Challenges
     Mrs. DuBose said that one of her greatest challenges is simply spreading the word about her organization.
     “I’m not sure very many people in the community know we’re even here.  It’s a very hard organization to publicize,” she said.  “The community has gotten larger and larger and as the media for how people receive information has changed, we’ve had to upgrade and change the method of distributing that information.”
     The number of children involved doesn’t have an absolute cap and has generally stayed large, but it ebbs and flows from year to year, making it difficult to make staffing decisions.
     “Last year we had a very low enrollment in training chorus and we had to really scramble to make sure we could not release any of our staff but give them valuable things to do and keep them involved,” she said.  “We have a very wonderful young staff.  They’re very invigorating, very enthusiastic with lots of wonderful skills.  When we have more children than we anticipate, we find another staff member to help us fulfill that commitment.”
     She said that her biggest headache is the budget.  She said that they are very fortunate in that the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ has let them use their space for rehearsal for 26 years without ever asking for money.  When the Chorus has a surplus year, they make a donation, when not they just send a thank-you note and the church has always received it with gratitude.
     To cover their other expenses, they have creative fundraisers.  They sell flowers and Chorus merchandise, receive sponsorship for ads in their programs, and have many private donors.
     But despite all of that stress, for Mrs. DuBose the rewards are priceless.
     “I come here after a day of teaching elementary school. I should be exhausted, but as soon as the kids start to sing, I completely shed all of that fatigue,” she said.  “They invigorate me. It’s the best part of it, is seeing how excited they are and just helping them to become more and more musical.”

The Frederick Children’s Chorus
10716 Etzler Mill Road
Woodsboro, MD 21798
Phone/Fax: 301-845-2451

1 comment:

  1. nice entry! i was in chorus from '85 to '96 and my mom still takes attendance there every week. i love seeing how the chorus has made an impact on every member's life, whether or not they continued to pursue music afterwards.