As artistic director for the Strathmore Children’s Chorus (SCC), Michael Wu notes one of his favorite moments with the group happened late last year.
The group was preparing for its December show that focused solely on female composers. Many didn’t realize women could be composers, instead thinking a majority were long-gone European men. “To see them light up because their culture got represented or a voice that they had not heard before became known to them” was amazing, Wu said. “…I love watching children light up over music and I love watching them grow and progress and have little a-ha moments.”
Chorus members are in for another brand new experience on the afternoon of Sunday, March 24 as they present a brand-new program, “Festival of Children’s Choirs,” at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda. Featuring some 300 youth voices in concert, the SCC will welcome top ensembles from the Children’s Chorus of Washington, Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir and Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir.
All the directors are friends, and some had collaborated previously. “We just thought it would be great to get together and give our choirs an opportunity to share and sing,” Wu said.
Collaborations are important for choirs on several fronts, according to Wu. For the out-of-town groups, they offer an opportunity to showcase what their ensembles represent to a new geographical area. Each choir has incentive to step up its own music as they will be singing with others who are giving their best.
“Sometimes students who sing in one choir, they might still have those feelings that they are alone or feeling like no one understands them,” Wu said. “It is very interesting for them, particularly in a situation like this to meet other people in other choirs and find that there are people just like them in other parts of the country and the world who just want to sing like they do.”
The SCC, a pre-professional choral group for ages 7 to 18, has five performing ensembles and nearly 300 members — its largest number since its inception seven years ago. Wu notes five or six children have been with the chorus since the beginning.
Courtesy of Arts Laureate
The Strathmore Children’s Chorus will welcome area choral ensembles at Sunday’s Festival of Children’s Choirs.
The SCC and the Children’s Chorus of Washington will have about 50 children each taking part in the concert, while Shenandoah Valley and Roanoke are bringing nearly 100 each. The SCC performers are from the older choirs, composed of musically advanced singers ranging in age from 12 to 18. The Children’s Chorus of Washington is bringing a combination of three of their ensembles, while Roanoke and Shenandoah Valley are bringing their concert touring groups.
“Chorus is about creating art in a way that only choral music can bring particularly because that art allows them to travel to different cultures, different times, different places — real or imagined,” Wu said. “We get the words unlike instrumental music, so we get a little bit more of the emotive power and some of the cultural or literal significance of some of the places and times we represent in song.
”We always bond because we are always learning notes together and singing whether we are all singing the exact same thing in unison and trying to match or we are trying to compliment each other because somebody has the melody, somebody has something harmonic.”
Wu added that chorus programs also provide either a supplemental or primary outlet for students to express themselves.
Monica Amery, 17, has been with the Strathmore Children’s Chorus for five years. “I thought it would be a fun experience and my mom encouraged me, so I auditioned and made a spot,” the Montgomery Village homeschooled student said.
Amery’s interest in music began when she was learning to play piano. Then, she said, “I really fell in love with singing at my church.” The church’s choir director asked her to join their children’s chorus when she was in fifth grade. A few years later, she became a song leader at weekly mass.
A fan of oratorial music, Amery most enjoys the opportunity the chorus gives her to expand her musical knowledge and make new friends who also enjoy music.
As for the upcoming concert, she said, “We are doing a lot of music based on the joy of singing and love of music. …I am excited to be performing these pieces with other choirs as well.”
Courtesy of Arts Laureate
Michael Wu is the artistic director of the Strathmore Children’s Chorus
The varied program will include Sean Ivory’s and Paul Caldwell’s “Hope for a Resolution,” a blend of South African anti-apartheid chant and Roman Catholic plain song chant, with the two chants fitting together like two cultures living together, Wu said. Also to be performed are Jake Runestad’s “Nyon Nyon,” a choral equivalent of techno rock, and Srul Irving Glick’s “Psalm 23,” which will be accompanied by a Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras string quartet.
“When every student gives their best, even when there (are) 300 of them and they are giving their best for something that can only happen when 300 people are together, the greater good is something that they see and what we have seen over time and what research has shown is those are the students who become engaged citizens in the world so that they understand that they have a voice,” Wu said. “Their voice isn’t always the main idea, sometimes it’s not even singing or making noise at all but to be engaged, to share, to give your best are all the kinds of positive vibes that we look for engaged active citizenship in the world.”
The Festival of Children’s Choirs will begin at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 24 at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Tickets are $20; admission is free for ages 18 and younger, but a ticket is required. Call 301-581-5100 or visit www.strathmore.org