Chicago Children's Choir visits Alaska

Posted: Sunday, July 04, 2010

Over 50 youth from all walks of life in the Chicago area danced with their peers from Alaska Saturday afternoon in the commons at Thunder Mountain High School.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Hosted by the Alaska Youth Choir and artistic director Missouri Smyth as part of a cultural exchange, the Chicago Children's Choir stayed with local Juneau families, saw whales and glaciers, and learned about Alaska Native culture.

"I am really enjoying the atmosphere and the incredible environment here," said Lincoln Park High School senior Taylor Varndell, 17, as she finished participating in a drum song. "I'm not accustomed to having so much nature. The most striking thing is the similarities between us about the importance of nature. The biggest difference is, in Chicago, we don't know everybody or have the closeness of community you share here."

Each of the Chicago "Windy City" youths had a chance to drum with members of the Woosh.ji.een dance group and learn interesting native facts from dance leaders Lyle and Kolene James.

"This, in our culture, means think before you speak," Kolene James said pointing to her lip piercing. "Because we believe everything spoken comes to life... it also means I am spoken for..."

"And so does the big diamond on her finger," husband Lyle James chimed in to much laughter.

The Chicago youth danced off the floor with the Woosh.ji.een and had a chance to visit after. The youths sang at the Northern Light United Church Friday night and will leave today to visit Denali and Anchorage for more singing engagements before returning home.

"It has just been great," Chicago Youth Choir artistic director Josephine Lee said. "It is my first trip here and hopefully not the last."

The Chicago Children's Choir currently serves more than 2,800 children ages 8-18 through choirs in 45 Chicago schools, after school programs in eight Chicago neighborhoods and the internationally acclaimed Concert Choir. Their mission statement believes youth from diverse backgrounds could better understand each other, and themselves, by learning to make beautiful music together.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at

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