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Children’s Choir Directors Receive National Recognition

Posted on June 26th, 2008

The directors of the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir (SVCC) are doing more than leading local children in award-winning singing these days. They’re also directing and teaching choristers and music educators across the country.

SVCC director Julia White
Artistic Director Julia White

Artistic Director Julia White, on sabbatical from the SVCC the past semester, couldn’t decline invitations to direct two prestigious honors choirs during her scheduled break. She was guest director at the American Choral Directors Western Division Honors Children’s Choir in Anaheim, Calif., late February.

One hundred and thirty children grades 5-8 from eight states attended the four-day conference that featured guest choirs, clinics on choir directing and children’s, middle school and high school honors choirs with veteran directors from across the country. Joe Miller of Westminster Choir College directed the high school choir, and Judith Herrington of the Tacoma Youth Chorus directed the junior high choir.

In addition, White was invited to direct the Organization of Kodaly Educators Honors Children’s Choir in Denver, Colo., the end of March. One hundred and sixty fourth and fifth grade children from across the country – all Kodaly trained students – were selected to be led under White’s directorship for three days and in a final concert at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver. The four-day national conference included performances and education sessions on the Kodaly methodology of music education.

“I was thrilled to be invited to direct both of these choirs, and it was truly an honor to work with such prestigious organizations,” said Ms. White. For both venues, White selected a program of age-appropriate music literature including secular, sacred and folk songs from many countries.

She also selected two of her favorite accompanists for the grueling schedule of rehearsals and performances. Martin Ellis, known for his work internationally with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, joined her in California, while Michael Yanette, accompanist of the BAK School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla., accompanied her in Denver.

The Kodaly approach is named for Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist, Zoltan Kodaly, who, after visiting conservatories in Hungary and disappointed in the level of musicianship there, committed himself to improving the quality of music education in his country. Kodaly believed that music was for everyone and that all people should sing, play and read music.

A Kodaly music education course consists of classes in sight-reading, ear training, teaching methodology, song and materials collection, conducting, and other topics. In order to be Kodaly certified a music teacher must participate in three summers of classes (2-3 weeks each) and complete several projects.

SVCC assistant director Joy Anderson
SVCC assistant director Joy Anderson

Joy Anderson, SVCC assistant director, was invited to teach in New Mexico and Virginia as part of the Kodaly music education courses for music educators. Ms. Anderson taught Kodaly pedagogy, a Kodaly sampler course, and several special topics at the University of New Mexico, June 7-20, the only Kodaly course in the state. Teachers from two large school systems were required to take the course, with school systems covering the cost.

Anderson, a Kodaly master teacher who has studied in Kecskemet, Hungary. also taught level I pedagogy at the Kodaly course offered at James Madison University, July 13-26, one of only 24 in the country endorsed by the national Kodaly organization. For several years she has taught the young children’s program as part of the camp and served as organizer for the two-week conference for music educators. In addition, she has directed children’s honor choirs in Virginia.

The Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir, part of the music department at EMU, uses Kodaly-inspired methodology as part of its curriculum. Children from six years old and up through the most advanced Concert Choir are learning to sight-sing music through the program that includes weekly instruction, a practice CD to enhance aural skills and memorization assignments.

“While excellent music education is a crucially important goal in itself, Kodaly music education in particular has also been linked in several studies to significant improvement in math scores — even when extra instructional time in music has been taken from instructional time in math,” Mrs. Anderson said.

The Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir will begin its 17th season this fall. Plans for the upcoming year include singing concerts for local Rockingham County School children, singing local Christmas and spring concerts and participating in the Pacific Rim International Children’s Choir Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii, under the direction of Henry Leck in July, 2009. The choir has also been invited to perform at the Organization of Kodaly Educators National Conference in Washington D.C. in March 2009.

The choir’s past performances include singing for Archbishop Desmond Tutu last fall at JMU, twice at Carnegie Hall, the national Christmas Tree Lighting, at the Tuscany International Children’s Chorus Festival in Italy and at numerous music conferences.

Although main auditions for the choirs took place in May, another round of auditions will be held Tuesday, Aug. 19, for children in grades 3 through 8.

In addition, the SVCC office is taking registration now for Explorers classes, taught by Joy Anderson, for children in first through third grade. For more information about the Explorers classes and auditions, call Judy Leaman at 540-432-4650. For more information on the SVCC, see www.emu.edu/svcc.

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