Singers in the Shenandoah Valley Children's Prep Choir play a game as they rehearse for the 25th anniversary concert. (Photo by Stephen Swofford/DN-R)

A quarter century of song: SVCC celebrates 25 years

When Riley Maas first joined the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir in 6th grade, she had one of the longest commutes — from Waynesboro to Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg.

Piling into the carpool with her other chorister friends every Monday evening, she wouldn’t have traded that 40-minute drive for anything.

“I had more time with my friends in the car, and it strengthened my relationships with them,” she said.

 Now, at 19 years old, Maas has graduated from cramped back seats to behind the steering wheel as she ferries her younger brother to rehearsals.

No longer up on the risers, she sits in the back of the auditorium every week humming the familiar songs.

But Maas has a chance to stand with her old choir again as SVCC celebrates 25 years with a weekend of alumni gatherings and three concerts from March 31-April 2.

Performing again

SVCC alumni coming from as far away as New York and Michigan have a chance to show off again with a free 7 p.m. March 31 performance at Park View Mennonite Church.

The Alumni Choir will perform three pieces from the SVCC repertoire and selected alumni who have continued their study in music will perform individually.

Impressively, none of the alumni will receive their music until a rehearsal before the concert.

Janet Hostetter, SVCC’s director, trusts the alumni’s skill enough to sight read most of the music, but they have an advantage.

“The pieces chosen are very accessible and are war horse pieces done in the choir historically,” she said. “They’re pieces you would only know if you happen to be in the choir that season, but the musicians who come back are very strong.”

The current SVCC generation will perform their annual spring concert 7 p.m. April 1 in the Lehman Auditorium at EMU, featuring the Preparatory, Treble and Concert Choirs.

Along with SVCC favorites, a Laura Farnell commissioned piece will be debuted, and professional accordion player Dale Wise, who has played for five U.S. presidents, will perform.

SVCC alumni will join the choirs for their last three songs.

After the concert, an SVCC Hall of Fame presentation will honor the people who have impacted the choir in the 25 years since its founding.

The final performance of the weekend features the SVCC Concert Choir opening for the American Boychoir, directed by Fernando Malvar-Ruiz at 4 p.m. April 2 in Lehman Auditorium.

The combined American Boychoir, Concert and Alumni choirs will conclude the show.

A weekend to invite back alumni has never been done before to celebrate an SVCC anniversary, but Hostetter thought it would draw more alumni.

“I think we were looking to appeal to those people as they would see or know a friend from the past who were interested in performing again,” she said. “It’s stimulating for them to want to come back and be a part of the concert if they knew they could sing again, which is more fun than hearing a choir where they don’t know anybody anymore.”

Maas is excited to be able to perform again with the group.

“I’m thrilled to be able to be back with a lot of the old choristers and to create some new memories and relive some old memories,” she said. “It will be emotional for the older choristers, but they will be the best kind of tears to step back into a pretty important piece of their childhood.”

Affecting youth

For 25 years, SVCC has been enriching the lives of its members through musical study and performance.

 SVCC was founded by Julia White, who served as artistic director from 1991 until the spring of 2012.

Jo-Anne Van der Vat-Chromy, director of choral activities at James Madison University, served as interim director from 2012-14 before Hostetter stepped into the position in the fall of 2014.

More than 160 youth in three choirs study under Hostetter’s direction as they complete their musical education while traveling around the country and now, the world.

As part of Hostetter’s doctorate research at JMU, she is working on a thesis involving international child choirs.

This summer SVCC is traveling to Peru to work with Los K’ana Wawakunas, a children’s choir in Cusco.

“The director writes most of the music for his ensemble, and he’s planning to write a piece we will learn, and then we will perform with them and generate video,” Hostetter said.

The trip will not only expand the group’s musicianship, but expose them to other worldviews.

“Music is a way you build bridges across ethnicities and cultures,” Hostetter said. “It’s often said music brings peace to people, and I think that’s part of my mission not only to train my kids to be excellent musically but expose them to other ways of doing things that are equally as good to broaden their horizons of different people.”

Experiences like these are one of the reasons Maas found her time in SVCC so constructive to her growing into an adult.

“I would say pretty easily SVCC changed my life,” she said. “It shaped my character … and brought me out of that shell. It gave me a lot of confidence and expanded my friends group a lot.”

Tickets are $8-20, and when tickets for the April 1 concert are purchased, tickets for the April 2 concert can be purchased at half price.

To purchase tickets, visit emu.edu/box-office.

For more information about the program, visit svcc.org.

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