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Preaching to the choir

What do a pear, a “talking” tennis ball and “hee-haw” have to do with conducting children’s choirs? More than 250 music educators from across the state found out during a seminar in children’s choral conducted Nov. 21.
Julia White, founder and artistic director of the 17-year-old Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir, led 69 choristers, ages 7-13, through demonstrations and songs at The Homestead, site of the Virginia Music Educators Association annual meeting.

A pear helps children visualize how to open up the backs of their mouths and throats to produce a full, rich sound. The slit tennis ball reminds choristers to open their mouths wide. “Hee-haw” is definitely NOT how you want to behave coming off and on to the risers.

The children enthusiastically demonstrated right and wrong ways to sing and handle themselves on stage, prompted by White and Joy Anderson, assistant director of the choirs. The songs the choristers shared demonstrated how appealing excellent-quality repertoire can be to both children and audiences.

The session included a solfege demonstration in which Anderson led the children in major and minor scales, memorized intervals, sight reading and even finding a specific pitch on their own. Curwen hand signs added a kinesthetic element to the aural skills demonstration.

“Very few music educators have had adequate formal training in conducting children’s choirs,” White said, explaining her motivation for taking two charter buses of children across the mountains on a wintry day. “I am thrilled with the opportunity to share with these educators what kind of sound and performance they can expect from the children they teach.”

Despite a less than ideal venue – challenging acoustics and a standing-room-only crowd – the Prep and Treble choirs demonstrated that they have learned their SVCC lessons well.

SVCC staff set extremely high musical and behavior standards for the choristers, and the mature professionalism exhibited by even the youngest choristers made them able ambassadors for their community.

To hear the choir locally, persons are invited to attend the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir Christmas concerts Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. or Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. at Eastern Mennonite University’s Lehman Auditorium. Advance tickets are available from the EMU box office by phoning 540.432.4582 or visit

Read more about SVCC and hear recordings at


– Story by Jim Bishop

augusta free press
augusta free press