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Chorale Sings Praises of Administrator

October 01, 1998|DIANE WEDNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A group of chatty students filed into the rehearsal room of First United Methodist Church of Canoga Park, dumping their knapsacks haphazardly onto a storage table at the back of the room.

The younger children settled into their folding chairs in the front rows, while the older ones sat just behind them, with altos and first and second sopranos arranged by voice.

Susanna Judd-Newkirk, director of the Angeles Chorale Children's Chorus, walked briskly into the room and greeted the students warmly as she handed out music, then got down to business.

"OK, sit up now, breathing right is important. Let's go."

The director nodded to piano accompanist Guy Ervin III,who gave each section their starting notes. The fidgeting stopped abruptly and 47 voices filled the room, their three-part harmony crisp and clear as they warmed up for their rehearsal of Mozart's "Laudate Dominum."

At the hub of all the activity at the Tuesday afternoon practice, Sharon Mountford darted from parents to children, answering their questions about schedules and auditions, never betraying the stress that is certainly built into the Angeles Chorale administrator's job.

"Sharon is a one-woman miracle," Judd-Newkirk said of the West Hills resident. "She's brilliant, she loves the children and supports the chorus' artistic value. From day one, she's been a support to me."

Claiming that her status as a frustrated singer helped catapult her into the time-consuming volunteer position, Mountford began pouring her energies into the popular adult and children's choruses after her husband began singing with the Angeles Chorale five years ago.

"The Chorale is a great group," Mountford said. "It allows nonprofessional singers to make great music and it allows the community to enjoy it. I have the time and skills to help them out and I've loved being involved."

Despite her love of choral music, Mountford, a scientist and teacher, would not be the obvious candidate for an arts administration position.

The Glendale native, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees in zoology, began her career working in university laboratories, where she conducted research on the retina, and on the structure of DNA.

After her 1962 marriage to Louis Mountford, a physicist and engineer, Sharon Mountford devoted her energies to raising their son and daughter.

As the children grew older, she shifted her attention to teaching science to gifted students, eventually serving as president of the Gifted Children's Assn. of the San Fernando Valley, where she honed her skills as an administrator.

Mountford, who donates 30-40 hours a week running the office and organizing publicity for the Angeles Chorale, joined their board of directors in 1995, and has been the glue that holds the organization together since then.

Formerly the Valley Master Chorale, the group was founded in 1975 and has established a reputation both locally and nationally for musical excellence. The Children's Chorus, which provides low-cost vocal training and several performance opportunities throughout the year, was established in 1993.

"Choral music . . . [is] the most uplifting and fulfilling kind of music there is," said Mountford, a 1998 Los Angeles Times Volunteer of Distinction honoree.

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Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Send suggestions on candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338. Or e-mail them to valley@latimes.com.

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