Like many music teachers, I have had a long and varied career. When I began teaching in the late 1960’s, I worked with college preparatory students. While my own children were young, I taught music part-time at a pre-school, in addition to taking several years to study for a Masters in Music. In the mid-70s, I was fortunate to find a job in the Durham Public Schools in Durham, North Carolina, teaching everything from elementary music for special education students to high school music. My final years of teaching music were spent at the Durham School of the Arts, a comprehensive 6-12 Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School.
Early in 2000, it became evident that I could not go on much longer teaching six classes each day, directing school musicals, and preparing students for honor choirs, not to mention all the grading and paper work that comes along with those teaching duties! I began exploring options for continuing my work with young singers, perhaps on a community-wide basis. After discussing various options with colleagues, local musicians, and parents of former students, it was recommended that I apply for an Emerging Artist grant from the Durham Arts Council. Fortunately, I received one of these grants, along with support from Duke University Chapel Music. With additional financial assistance from the parents of many former chorus students, the Durham Children’s Choir was founded in June 2004. Announcements were sent to every public, private, and church school in the area, as well as local churches and synagogues. Over 140 children came to auditions . . . and the Durham Children’s Choir began rehearsals in August 2004.
There are other excellent choirs in the Durham area, such as the North Carolina Boys Choir and the Capital City Girls Choir, but by their titles one can see that these groups are limited by gender. Many of the schools in Durham have highly-qualified music teachers, but their time is often severely limited. There are also wonderful sacred choirs open to children, but repertoire and performance opportunities are usually limited to sacred music intended for religious education or worship. The Durham Children’s Choir (DCC) offers an opportunity for all children in the Durham area to sing and experience the joy of choral music!
The mission of the choir is to learn a wide variety of high quality choral music and to share that music with the community through public performances. The choir studies and performs a wide variety of choral music, including sacred and secular music, world music, gospel, Broadway, and American popular song. The performance opportunities are wide reaching. Since its founding in 2004, the choir has sung regularly on the Duke University Performance series. They have also sung with Bobby McFerrin, the Welsh Men’s Choir, the Kronos Quartet, the Choral Society of Durham, and the Durham Symphony Orchestra. The DCC also regularly sings for community celebrations and at retirement centers in the area.
In recent years, several extraordinary opportunities have been afforded to the choir. In late June of 2008, 50 members of the choir took their first international tour, singing in south Wales and Durham, England. While in Wales, the choir visited and sang in several schools, including a primary school dedicated to preserving the Welsh language. Plans are currently being made for a tour to Toyama, Japan. The DCC has also had the good fortune of premiering several commissioned works, including Songs of Flight, a charming song cycle written by Andy Beck for the North Carolina chapter of the Music Teachers National Association.
The members of the Durham Children’s Choir are selected by auditions, which are open to all interested and motivated young singers in the area. As a result, the choir is comprised of children of all racial, cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds. Many of them are leaders in their own school music ensembles and have been recommended by their music teachers.
Take the opportunity to look for similar groups in your area! Participating in children’s choirs such as this can provide talented young singers with an opportunity to develop their singing abilities and performance skills, as well as to learn and perform high quality vocal literature while working in a cooperative atmosphere with a variety of students from across their community—a true example of the kind of musical activities we hope our students will grow to participate in and support as adults!