The Shenandoah Valley Children's Choir has been dazzling audiences for 20 years. Hear some of them perform on Sept. 27 at 2:15 p.m. when they join acclaimed artist Jose-Luis Orozco at Harrisonburg's International Festival in Hillandale Park. (Archival photo by Jon Styer)

Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir opens season with famed Jose-Luis Orozco at international festival

The Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir (SVCC) will be performing with renowned bilingual educator and musician Jose-Luis Orozco at Harrisonburg’s International Festival on Sept. 27 at 2:15 pm.

Orozco, who performs internationally before enthusiastic crowds, will be appearing on the invitation of the SVCC, Fairfield Center and Harrisonburg City Schools. “He is our gift to the community,” said SVCC artistic director Janet Hostetter, who has prepared nearly 40 students to sing with Orozco at the festival in Hillandale Park.

Orozco and SVCC share the goal of gathering children, families, and communities around a singing culture, Hostetter said. Orozco’s performances employ a singalong style, through which he engages people of all ages.

“He’s like an Hispanic Raffi!” said SVCC assistant director Joy Anderson.

SVCC begins its 2014 season with Hostetter stepping into the artistic director position; a renovated office location in an EMU-owned house on campus; and aspirations for a new set of uniforms to replace the children’s 20-year-old outfits.

SVCC choristers at mid-September 2014 retreat (from left): McRae Richardson, Rebekah Long, Macy Eye, Trevor Inouye, Riley Joyner. (Photo by Randi Hagi)

To usher in the upcoming term, SVCC held a group retreat at Camp Horizons on Sept. 13. Choristers became acquainted with some of this season’s repertoire, while building bonds among themselves and with staff. Rehearsal time, games, dramatic sketches, s’mores, and scampering about the woods packed the 11-hour day at the camp.

Hostetter’s passion for musical education is rooted in her own experiences as a high school chorister. “I learned much about listening and connecting to the people around me in those years,” said Hostetter. “I experienced the way community can be built through the members who give, based on what is needed for the good of the group.”

As a musical instructor, she fondly remembers the transformation of Wilbur Pence Middle School in Dayton (Va.) during her years teaching there. Singing “was not cool” when she arrived, but both attendance and camaraderie burgeoned under her tutelage.

Transposing these experiences into her new position with SVCC is akin to “stepping off a plane into a beautiful flowering field.”

Hostetter is familiar with said field in her prior roles of SVCC parent and guest conductor, but now assumes full responsibility for nurturing SVCC. Studying the choirs inside and out helps her “ensure the ongoing success and continued growth of an already strong and flourishing organization.”

SVCC’s strength and prolificity are evident in their history. They have performed at the White House, Carnegie Hall, two Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award ceremonies, and the Tuscany International Children’s Chorus Festival in Italy, among other illustrious venues.

“People are always shocked when they hear us,” said Anderson. She says it is “unheard of” to be this well known, given that SVCC is not based in a major urban area.

There are currently 157 students enrolled for the school year in SVCC’s Music Explorers and performing choir programs. Music Explorers consists of students in kindergarten through third grade, with an emphasis on basic choral education. The performing choirs, made up of the preparatory, treble, and concert choirs, are divided based on age and singing prowess. Preparatory choir eligibility begins in second grade, and students must audition for acceptance into each level. Concert choir, with students from sixth to twelfth grade, is the longest-distance touring group of SVCC.

Participants come from families of Mennonite, Jewish, other Christian, and no religious inclination. This diversity of faith tradition is key to SVCC’s character. “We want this to be a very inclusive atmosphere,” said Anderson.

“Cultivated properly,” Hostetter said, “choral ensembles can give students a place of learning and belonging.”

Other upcoming SVCC performances include:

  • JMU’s production of “La Bohéme” by Giacomo Puccini, in which nine concert choir students will make up the “Ruffian’s Chorus.” Performances on Nov. 7, 8, and 9 in the Forbes Center, Harrisonburg.
  • A fall concert in tandem with the Shenandoah Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra, with the treble and concert choirs each having their own sets as well as two songs in conjunction with the orchestra. This is the first time the orchestras and choirs have collaborated on stage. Performance on Nov. 23, 4 p.m., in Lehman Auditorium.
  • A Christmas Concert including all three performing choirs performing a collection of Celtic-themed songs. Performance on Dec. 7, 4 p.m., in Lehman Auditorium.