Ann Arbor Youth Chorale celebrates 30 years and new auditions
To evoke Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, music was in the air in 1987. Two major children’s choirs were founded in Ann Arbor that year and both are celebrating their 30th anniversaries: the Boychoir of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor Youth Chorale (AAYC).
“There was a boom in children's choir development in the U.S. at that time,” said Shayla Powell, who's directed the AAYC’s preparatory Descant Choir for 25 years. “The European boy choir is a significant piece of choral music history and in the early ’90s English cathedrals such as Salisbury were beginning to launch girl choirs.”
While the Boychoir of Ann Arbor followed the European tradition for youth-choir membership, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale charted a path that welcomes boys and girls. “The mixed gender treble choir has been a somewhat unique American tradition,” Powell said. “The Indianapolis Children's Choir, founded by Henry Leck, was the model that our founders looked to for inspiration.”
Both organizations celebrated their third decade of song with anniversary concerts on May 6, and while the focus is on fun, these are serious choirs. The children tackle difficult works, such as Benjamin Britten's "Requiem," and learn songs in the original languages, including Latin, German, Spanish, and Swedish. “Our May [anniversary] concert program included English, Latin, and Cherokee pieces,” Powell said. “The Cherokee also incorporated wild animal and bird sounds related created by the singers.”
But the kids thrive on the challenge of singing in something other than English.
“The singers love to learn other languages and most of the time it is not particularly difficult because good composers wed text to music so well that the language takes care of itself,” Powell said.
While many youth choirs focus on the classics, AAYC sometimes commissions new works and doesn’t shy away from topical themes. For the anniversary concert, the choir performed a new piece by Andrea Ramsey, "But a Flint Holds Fire."
“Dr. Ramsey uses the Christina Rossetti poem for the lyrics and superimposes statements that Flint students shared with her about the impact of the water poisoning crisis,” Powell said. “It was challenging for the singers to feel the flow of solo speakers interspersed with singing. The result was very powerful.”
While the children are “true professionals at performance time,” Powell said, they’re still kids. Accidents will happen.
“Years ago, when Crocs were new to the footwear scene, a chorister showed up for a special performance for our patrons at a local country club. Crocs did not meet our dress code,” Powell said. “One of our founders, Ruth Datz, looked at the singer and shook her head as if to say, ‘Keep those out of sight.’ As he walked out onto the risers, one of the Crocs flew off the singer's foot and somehow made a very high arc in the air before landing silently behind the risers.”
If all this sounds entertaining, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale is holding auditions on May 13 and June 10. “Our singers typically present 90-minute concerts two times a year, in December and May,” Powell said, which means 12-14 songs per concert.
AAYC encourages its students to learn piano, but with a choir, the kids never have to sit down at an instrument to practice, which is usually the hardest part.
“Singers can sing throughout their entire lives,” Powell said. “We always have our instrument with us.”
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.
Ann Arbor Youth Chorale is holding auditions on May 13 and June 10 at 1100 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. Boys with unchanged voices and girls ages 9-16 are invited. Visit http://annarboryouthchorale.org to sign up for an audition time. Read our profile of the Boychoir of Ann Arbor here.