WVMEA Fortunate to Hear Children’s Voices

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

Winter 2004

A master organist whose fingers grew too old to play was made custodian of the organ in a famous cathedral. One day, a visitor came to the cathedral and asked to play the organ, but the custodian refused. The visitor persisted until he was finally given permission to playa few notes.

The stranger filled the cathedral with such beautiful music that the old organist was entranced. He asked the visitor his name, who replied, "My name is Felix Mendelssohn." Until the end of his life, the old organist told this story to everyone he met. "To think," he exclaimed, "that I almost missed hearing Mendelssohn play!"

Several years ago, members of the Elementary/General Association - now the Society for General Music (SGM) were concerned that music teachers attending WVMEA conferences were not hearing an important group in our public school system - elementary children. Several members were interested in establishing an annual children's chorus to perform at WVMEA conferences.

A committee of SGM members began to formulate plans for a proposal that would be presented to the WVMEA Executive Board for approval. These members included Jane Weimer-Godwin, Upshur County; Patricia Moffett, Pleasants County; Penny Saeler, Monongalia County; Elinor Copenhaver, Cabell County; and Timothy H. Waugh, Mercer County.

The committee believed that a children's chorus would encourage high standards for excellence in our schools. Good vocal habits would be stressed, and young singers would develop a solid foundation in choral singing. Gifted students would be given challenges that they may not have received otherwise and would be exposed to fine choral literature. SGM members thought that a children's chorus would give young people the experience of singing under the direction of a choral conductor who was outstanding in the field of children's choral music. The performance would expose school music teachers to new conducting and rehearsal techniques, literature, and philosophy. Musicians and parents attending the conference would have an opportunity to hear a fine children's vocal ensemble. Perhaps SGM's most intriguing goal was to highlight the unique sound of a large group of children's voices.

In addition to other benefits discussed, an all-state children's chorus would increase WVMEA/MENC membership, encourage greater participation in WVMEA/MENC by elementary/general music educators, and improve the quality of future high school and college choruses.

The committee finalized the proposal for an annual all-state children's chorus and presented it to the WVMEA Executive Board in March 1988. The proposal was discussed and tabled for action at a later date. The proposal was approved at the June 4, 1988 Executive Board meeting. The board suggested that a constitution and by-laws be written for SGM.

Following the approval of the proposal, the committee outlined the logistics of organizing the chorus. The guidelines suggested that fifth and sixth grade students would be eligible to participate and that there would be a limit of four singers from each county. (The latter rule was later amended.) Letters were sent to county superintendents, music supervisors, and music representatives. Teachers sponsoring students for the chorus were required to be MENC members.

Excitement grew as teachers from Gilmer, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Harrison, Jackson, Logan, Mason, Mercer, Monroe, Ohio, Pendleton, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Putnam, Randolph, and Roane counties began selecting students for the chorus. Music was ordered and rehearsals were held, sometimes after school, to prepare for the concert. For several weeks, students practiced Johann Sebastian Bach's Alleluia, Johannes Brahms' Ladybug, an Australian folk song Kookaburra, and a Brazilian folk song A Zing-Aza.

The WV All-State Children's Chorus held its first performance on April 7, 1989 at 7:00pm in the Civic Center Little Theatre in Charleston. Dr. Mary Goetze, a faculty member at the Indiana University School of Music and director of the University Children's Chorus, was the conductor, and Patricia Moffett was the accompanist.

The performance surpassed all expectations. It was a delight to see 150 students from 68 schools on the theatre stage. The members of the audience were captivated from the opening tones of Lowell Mason's 0, Music to the closing notes of To the Ploughboy, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. SGM members started with a dream and were pleased to see the dream become a reality.