The new Children’s Choir of Central Virginia made its debut public performance with the Crozet Community Chorus Sunday, April 23, to a full house at Crozet Baptist Church, under the direction of Brian Sousa with accompaniment by Narumi Sousa. And what a performance it was! Singing an ebullient “Jim-Along Josie” complete with dexterous hand dancing, as well as joining the 50-strong adult choir for a razzle-dazzle mashup of “I Love You/What a Wonderful World” arranged by Craig Hella Johnson, they proved themselves to be outstanding budding musicians clearly led by a gifted director. They sang out confidently and clearly enjoyed themselves. Their entrances were strong and their pitch and rhythm nearly perfect—not a small feat for 8-14 year olds.
The Children’s Choir started in mid-February and performed at Our Lady of Peace on April 1, but this was their big coming-out party, and they made quite a splash. Several audience members commented that, as typically wonderful as the adult choir was, the children’s participation was the highlight of the concert. You won’t want to miss their first solo concert, on Saturday, May 13, at 2 p.m. at the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased online at www.childrens choircentralva.com. The spring-themed program will feature eight songs in four languages, with a special Bach piano performance by Isabelle Wang. Proceeds will benefit the Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together (IMPACT), whose focus this year is affordable housing for over-65 seniors in Albemarle County (impactcville.com).
“My main goal is to teach kids to read music like they can read text. We want the children to be musically literate. This is a skill they can enjoy all their lives,” says Sousa, who holds a B.M. in sacred music and organ as well as an M.M. in choral conducting from James Madison University and serves as Organist/Choirmaster at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. “What I love most about working with kids is the joy and willingness that they bring. They have no reservations about learning something new.” Sousa has always wanted to start a children’s choir, and when he met his wife Narumi, who had experience with children’s choirs in Japan, they teamed up to make the dream a reality. Sousa’s admiration for the work of Julia White, when she was the Director of the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir, led him several years ago to meet with her and seek advice on how to start a children’s choir in the Charlottesville area. She encouraged him and gave him recordings, programs, and theory books to help him in his efforts.
The Children’s Choir, with the motto “Dedication, Excellence, and Beauty,” is open to boys and girls ages 8-14. Practices are held on Mondays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Crozet Methodist Church, and on Thursdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville. Members are only expected to attend one of these, and then the two groups combine for rehearsal before each concert. The choir also holds a retreat and potluck at the beginning of each semester where the two groups can get to know each other. The cost is $100 per month, with a $75 registration fee that will be waived for anyone who registers before May 31. The fees pay for music, instruments, curriculum materials, and staff salaries. Sousa also plans to offers musicianship classes and private voice lessons for all ages. If you have a child younger than 8 who might be interested, there is a form on the website to sign up; when at least 10 younger children express interest, a new group will form (www.childrenschoircentralva.com).
Talking to Sousa, it soon becomes clear that he is lit up inside. His innate joie de vivre, love of music, and love of children are infectious. “I always try to strike a balance between being fun and being strict. The uniforms”—which cost $140 and consist of a grey pleated skirt, white blouse, and navy blazer with the Children’s Choir’s own crest featuring two gryphons and a torch—“show discipline and emphasize that we are a family.”
Sousa uses the Kodaly method, in which the children sing first by ear, then break it down to show how it works on the musical page. “Brian is great with the kids. He is enthusiastic and the joy he brings to what he does is palpable,” said Sonia Crimaldi, whose 8-year-old daughter Isabella’s singing has improved since joining the choir. “The children love him because he can be silly and playful, but his fun side is combined with extensive training. He is working to create a high quality choir. He believes that when we challenge kids, they rise to it. He has them singing in Latin!” Sonia continued. Christina Flamm, mother of 9-year-old Annie, agreed. “I am so happy to see that they are learning music theory. Sousa is organized, thorough, and uses manipulatives like toys, balls, and puppets. He is good at communicating, and always looking for ways to involve them in the community. Annie loves music and loves to sing. She tried piano, ballet, even hip hop—but since joining the choir, she says she’s ‘found her thing’ now. She also enjoys the friendships.”
The Sousas plan to grow the choir to accommodate as many children as possible. In addition to the May 13 concert, they are offering a Summer Music Camp July 24 – 28, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, with a performance and family potluck on Friday afternoon. The camp tuition is $250. Future plans include singing at Montpelier for National Children’s Day on Nov. 20; the Children’s Choir Festival of Central Virginia in summer 2018, which they hope will attract choirs from around the nation and even the world; possible day trips to Richmond or D.C.; and a spring concert to benefit the U.Va. Children’s Hospital. “We want to show the kids that it’s important to give back,” Sousa explained. A possible trip to perform in Finland next summer is in the works.
The Crozet Community Chorus, under the direction of John McCarty with mellifluous accompaniment by Tracey Reed, brought their beautiful six-part harmony blend to an eclectic program of 15 songs in four languages, ranging from folk to pop to sacred, all on the theme of “The Glory of Love.” The ever-crowd-pleasing chorus is accepting new singers for its fourth season, to start on September 3 with a retreat and potluck of their own and a fall concert planned for December 2 (it’s not too early to mark your calendars!) We are lucky to have so many high quality musical enrichment opportunities here in Western Albemarle!