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COVER STORY : Kids Keep Music Alive : Young Voices Soar, Meet Music Challenge

December 05, 1991|TRIVENI SHESHADRI

Children eager and ready to learn, committed music educators and supportive parents throughout North County have brought to life two regional youth choirs and a youth orchestra.

A number of area schools have bands, but few have orchestras or choirs. Some never developed music programs; others have dropped or trimmed them to save money. Students have increasingly turned to private lessons and community ensembles.

In a little more than a year's time, the Children's Choir and the Palomar College Youth Chorale have been born and the North County Civic Youth Orchestra has seen dramatic growth. The three groups are now among key musical outlets for students in North County.

Two North County children's choirs were born, coincidentally, at the same time in response to a need for choral training opportunities.

Since their inception more than a year ago, the San Diego Children's Choir in Solana Beach and the Palomar College Youth Chorale in San Marcos have demonstrated what children can accomplish with professional training and exposure to great music.

"We are not living in a society where singing is a favored or practiced activity. There is a vacuum," says Polly Campbell, founder and music director of the San Diego Children's Choir. For Campbell, a music educator who has taught singing to children for more than 18 years in San Diego, it was this "vacuum" in vocal education that spurred her to start the choir in the fall of 1990.

The choir has grown to include 70 children, ranging in ages from 8 to 15. Based on their vocal maturity, they train in a preparatory or concert group. Most students have little or no musical training before they come to the choir, Campbell said. "This is the training experience. When I audition children, what I am looking for is the ability to sing on pitch and in tune, and a pretty voice, but really nothing beyond that."

The program doesn't intend to turn out professional musicians, Campbell emphasized. "Our goal is to train children who will love great music, who can sing fine choral music but also gain an appreciation of music so that they will become future concert-goers, people who will love music even if they don't continue singing," she added.

"Last year we did fairly serious classical music by great composers, music that 8-year-olds would never have thought of approaching," Campbell said. "Most of them were pretty enthralled with it. Given the opportunity, children have that special quality to appreciate music."

The choir rehearses once a week for 1 hour and 15 minutes in the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church. Children are expected to practice their music and vocal training at home. The choir gives about nine performances a year in the community. "We don't like to overload the children," Campbell said. "I choose carefully, to make sure it is a great opportunity for the children."

Campbell draws from music in different languages, in keeping with her objective of promoting the children's understanding of different cultures. The choir's repertoire includes music in Spanish, English, German, Italian, Hebrew and Chinese. "We have a really broad cultural representation in the county," Campbell said. "The children who know these languages take great pride when I ask them to help us with the Spanish or Italian pronunciation."

The choir has played host to the Leningrad Radio and Television Children's Choir and the Hampshire County Children's Choir from England. One of the long-term goals of the program is to travel abroad and perform with choirs in other parts of the world, Campbell said.

According to Campbell, the choir's expenses are met partly by the $200 annual tuition. Individual and corporate contributions and funding by foundations help cover the rest. Scholarships are offered to students with financial need.

Encouraged by the response to the choir. Campbell started a similar program in University City last September. Her goal is to develop several such groups, each a fully developed branch, throughout San Diego.

The fall of '90 also saw Martha Rosacker's efforts to start a children's chorale in North County come to fruition with the starting of the Palomar College Youth Chorale.

For Rosacker, who is the founder and conductor of the chorale, the motivation to start the program grew from her belief that early musical experiences form the basis for a lifelong love and interest in music.

When she approached Palomar College with the idea of starting a youth chorale, she received immediate support and encouragement from Joe Stanford, chairman of the Performing Arts Department, who shared her concerns about the lack of musical opportunities for young children.

Last September, Rosacker quit her full-time teaching job in the Carlsbad Unified School District to devote her full attention to the chorale.

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