Juneau youth choir heads to international festival in B.C.

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2001

Singing, conducting, dancing, scolding and praising her 37 exuberant teen-age singers, Alaska Youth Choir director Missouri Smyth didn't waste a second of rehearsal time Tuesday afternoon.

The 37-member community choir is traveling to Vancouver, British Columbia, next week to participate in an international children's choir festival. "The World of Children's Choirs 2001" festival will feature 50 choirs from 20 countries.

Tuesday afternoon in Northern Light Church, the singers cheered when they began to practice an African spiritual song. Halfway through, many of the singers began moving to the music. Some did not, and some were dancing in place. Smyth and accompanist Jacque Farnsworth stopped the music.

"It's not the wave," Smyth said laughing, "and it's not this." She stood stock still. She dipped one shoulder and then the other, swaying side to side, demonstrating what she wanted. As the singing started again, Smyth pulled a rigid singer out of the front row and gently moved her back and forth. A few moments later she returned to her place, considerably more loose.

"They definitely work them while they're here," said Gary LeBlanc, a parent and volunteer who was setting up a mid-rehearsal meal for the singers at the back of the church. "Missouri gets the most out of them."

The group rehearses six times a month, but has been holding extended rehearsals every Tuesday afternoon and evening since mid-January.

"The World of Children's Choirs 2001" begins Sunday and runs through March 22. Saturday, all 37 singers in the concert choir, six parent chaperones and three choir staffers will leave Juneau for Vancouver. The Juneau singers will perform in four of the 46 concerts staged, including a mass choir for the finale performance March 22.

"They're shooting for 2,001 voices for the final numbers," said Odette Foster, tour manager for the Alaska Youth Choir. She said the groups will be joining to sing music commissioned especially for the performance, and the composers will conduct.

Juneau singers will be housed with choirs from Canada, Switzerland and Japan, giving the youngsters a chance to rehearse and interact with children from other countries.

The Alaska Youth Choir is a Juneau non-profit founded in 1994. AYC performs several annual benefit concerts, holiday and spring concerts and special event performances each year. The choir will perform at the Alaska Folk Festival in April, and will perform spring concerts May 11 and 12.

In addition to the concert choir, the Alaska Youth Choir also has a second group of 19 less-experienced singers, the resident training choir. Each chorister must demonstrate mastery of 22 pieces of music to participate in the tour concerts.

The tour is funded in part by a grant from the City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Recreation Department. Foster, who serves as the administrator for the group, said the $20,000 youth activity grant will cover about twothirds of the cost of the children's travel expenses.

Annual costs to AYC members include $250 tuition, a $40 music fee, $35 performing uniform rental, and tour expenses, which are not raised through grants or fund-raising efforts. Some limited financial assistance is available based on need. Auditions will be held in June and again in the fall for the upcoming 2001-02 season.

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