Some time in the late 1990’s I was invited to attend a Salt Lake Children’s Choir concert with my sister and her children. I thought to myself as I sat and marveled at their professional presentation, “I would love to have a child who sings in that choir some day.” At the time I was still single.
Fast forward to 2011: One day soon after my first son turned eight, his church leader called to ask if it would be alright for Colin to sing a solo in the children’s program. I had heard my child sing songs he picked up from one place or another and thought that he seemed to be on pitch, “but perhaps I am just a typical proud parent,” I told myself. When an outsider told me he sang well, I thought, “If he has a gift for singing he ought to be developing it.” I immediately thought back to my experience seeing the Salt Lake Children’s Choir perform.
I went to their website and found a contact number, then I called it, expecting to get a secretary or a message machine. Instead, I got the director, Ralph Woodward. I was worried my son had no previous voice training and I was not sure how good of an audition piece we could get prepared.
My talk with Mr. Woodward lasted about five minutes: I learned that Mr. Woodward was approachable and personable; I learned that Colin would not need to prepare a piece to audition and required no previous experience; that Colin was taking piano lessons would be helpful to him if he joined the choir; and that Mr. Woodward would simply need to spend 15 – 20 minutes with him, testing his sense of pitch in a non-threatening environment at a local music store. The audition was set, and we would hear back within a week or two afterwards.
Of course, I also wondered if this would be something we could afford, how frequently practices would be held and whether my child was mature enough to handle the practice sessions. We received this information at the audition: I determined that with the number of hours Colin would spend in practices (one 90-minute session each week) and at performances, our cost for tuition and uniform worked out to be less than $10/hour. “Where else could we get professional voice training for that cost?” my husband and I exclaimed. Once Mr. Woodward confirmed that Colin had the ability and invited him to be in the choir, the decision was easy. Yes, Colin would join the choir! And after his first practice, Colin dissolved my concern about his ability to focus during practices when he asked, “Mom, can I sing again tomorrow?” He enjoyed his experience.
I also learned a little more about Ralph Woodward. Both his parents taught voice at Brigham Young University; Mr. Woodward has concertized and lived extensively in Europe and Latin America; and he has been training children to sing for 30 years. It became apparent Mr. Woodward’s heart was in his work because he invested a lot of personal time selecting pieces to perform and even wrote some original pieces for each concert.
I was stunned when I heard the choir’s first performance at the Cathedral of the Madelaine. It was a spiritual experience. After Mr. Woodward cut off the choir’s final note of the concert, he dropped his head in awe. I could tell he felt as I did…the children touched perfection in some way. I was pleased to have my son be a part of an offering so amazing and beautiful for the community. It was evident to me that Colin was developing into a skilled musician, learning how to form sounds properly with his mouth and to breathe properly so he would have quality sound and sustained pitch. He was learning songs in French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian and more languages. He was learning to use his vocal chords in a safe way so that he could have a long future ahead with quality vocal production no matter which style of music he decided to study down the road. And finally, the songs he was singing covered a wide range of styles, from folk to classical. This, I could see, would be a solid foundation in vocal music for him.
Soon it came time for his second concert performance, the Spring Concert. I could see Colin needed a break after practicing at least 15 minutes a day for nine months. But he had had a break over the Christmas holiday and I knew he would also have the summer off. During the concert, I noticed that Colin had stopped singing during one of the songs. I was sure from hearing him practice that he knew the lyrics. I worried that he might not feel well. After the concert I asked why he was not singing during “The Lord is My Shepherd?” He replied, “Mom, I was feeling emotional, that’s all. I’m fine.” So I learned yet another benefit to my child being in the choir: Mr. Woodward teaches the children that the purpose of their music is to give of themselves and to touch others. He takes them to a couple of rest homes to perform during the holiday season so they have the opportunity to serve those less fortunate in the community. My son told me as we left the rest home that he had “a good feeling.”
Having my sons (I now have two sons singing with the choir) sing with the Salt Lake Children’s Choir is rewarding for them, for my family and for the community. They are learning quality music with Mr. Woodward’s performance selections and compositions; they are having fun and meeting other musicians; they are learning self discipline from daily practice at home and weekly choir rehearsals; their singing ability is consistently improving; and they are influenced by the music they sing while sharing their talents with others. Our neighbors and friends who attend the concerts are thrilled with the performances. My family and I are grateful and fortunate for this awesome musical experience. To the choir and its director, we say Thank you.