By Fred Bogert
Most of the audience in school choral concerts is made up of parents and family members. They are motivated by their kinship to be supportive and encouraging of their singing family members and are happy to sit quietly and enjoy the performance, at the end of which they burst into smiles and applause, with a scattering of the whoops and hollers normally associated with field sports-fun stuff.
There are times, though, when school choirs have a chance to perform out and about in their community, where their audience can be more diverse, and the relationship with the performers can be different. When this happens, we as directors have a chance to reach out and engage the listeners in some interesting ways.
I was working with a small kids’ choir a while back. They sang sincerely, had fun, and of course their families found their combined young voices to be absolutely charming. Me, too! I thought a bit about the power of their innocence and decided to present them to a particular audience in a particular way. Here in Louisville, there is a Friday night gathering of folks at one of the local churches that features singing and fellowship and includes a large number of people from local recovery programs. The music spans a wide variety of styles, from black and white gospel favorites to folk and pop songs. It’s an interesting mix of a variety of locals, and it seemed to me that the little kids choir might be an effective part of one of these gatherings.
To prepare for their appearance we concentrated on simple songs that allowed the kids to really feel what they were singing and “show the glow” of their enjoyment of the music. We chose to do only four songs, so they could be well prepared. Each kid got a practice CD. We asked their parents to help them get ready by singing those songs around the house with them and keep them focused on the fun. We chose not to use uniforms or even dressy clothes, asking them to wear the normal school attire they’d be most comfy in.
That night we opened with a delightful piece called “In the Very Middle You’re a Lot Like Me”, sort of a Mary Martin kind of thing with a good rhythm that got people’s attention and started bringing out the smiles. Then we did a song that featured a couple of sweet solos on the verses. I don’t remember the title, but its message focused on kindness and grace, and I noticed that some of the recovery folks were starting to shift in their seats a bit. Then there were some Kleenexes brought out as the power of these tiny angels took over the room.
The third song was a kid’s choir rendition of a familiar hymn, during which the audience smiled and occasionally mouthed some of the words as they silently sang along. At that point, I knew that our investment of time and talent was about to pay off. We closed with a simple and energetic rendition of “This Is the Day”, and, after the second verse, invited everyone to sing along. This was that magic moment when the little group of kids became song leaders for a whole bunch of adults, and the effect was very powerful. You could see the kids’ faces light up as they felt the validation of their efforts. I’m sure you can imagine how many hugs there were flying around the room at the end of that hour.
As I reflect on this fine musical episode I’m reminded of the value of having a young choir occasionally cross the boundary of separation by inviting folks to “all sing” on one of their songs, spreading unity in the community with the joyful power of our combined voices. Yum!
Fred Bogert has spent the last 45 years in the music business. He has produced, written for and performed on three Grammy-nominated CDs, as well as appeared as composer, producer, and performer with a variety of artists. His website is fredbogert.com, and his choral scores are available on sheetmusicplus.com. Fred lives in Louisville, KY.