Christine Sharp loves to sing. Besides taking music classes in school, Christine, 10, is also a member of the Stage Coach choir.
So when she got a chance, she decided to check out the Community School of the Arts Children’s Choir, part of the Northern Illinois University Community School of the Arts, or CSA.
“My friend brought me to ‘bring a friend night,’” she said. “I really liked it and I came back. I love it.”
Christine is the newest of 19 area children between the ages of 7 and 15 who are members of the CSA children’s choir, which director Mary Lynn Doherty founded five years ago.
“I felt it was a good continuation of some other children’s choir work that had been done in the past,” said Doherty, the coordinator of music education at NIU. The purpose of the choir is to augment existing music programs in local schools. “I think it’s a wonderful additional to what NIU does in connecting with the community. This not only brings the kids in the choir together, but their parents, neighbors, friends and teachers. Bringing people together through music is important to me.”
Doherty, a Darien, Ill. native who sang in the world-renowned Glen Ellyn Children’s Choir before teaching children’s music in Iowa, Wisconsin and at the Chicago Choir Academy, said any town the size of DeKalb should have a children’s community choir.
Although most of the young singers come from DeKalb County, two are from Rochelle, one from Marengo and one from Franklin Grove. A production of “Hansel and Gretel” a few years ago drew singers from more than an hour away.
Katie Hagaman, 15, of DeKalb, and Ben Pflipsen, 14, of Rochelle, have been with the choir since its inception.
“I did it because my brother was in a choir, but it shut down before I got old enough to join,” said Hagaman, who qualified for the Illinois Music Educators Association all-state festival earlier this year. “A lot of what I know about music I have learned from Mary Lynn.”
One of the youngest choir members, second-year member Fiona Arado, 8, of DeKalb, said she likes singing fast songs the best. Her mother, who was in a children’s choir as a youth, is very impressed with CSA and Doherty’s ability to get a group of children who don’t know each other to sing together.
“I think it’s wonderful what she has done,” Therese Arado said. “It’s hard to believe there are so many (good) young singers.”
As a children’s music specialist, Doherty uses what she calls comprehensive musicianship through performance, a model of teaching she also uses for her undergraduate students at NIU. It’s essentially a process that allows music students to have a deeper understanding of the music.
A children’s choir, Doherty believes, is the best place for young singers to develop their voices. Although she doesn’t train individual voices at a young age, Doherty said children will develop acute listening skills as they learn from each other, which is “a big part of any kind of learning.” Younger singers will be pulled by older ones, who naturally assume the responsibility of leading.
CSA choir members also benefit from sessions with conductors like Nick Page, who performed at Carnegie Hall before his visit to NIU earlier this month.
Meeting once a week in the NIU School of Music Building, the children’s choir sometimes uses nontraditional settings to rehearse, such as when Doherty took them to a courtyard outside during a recent practice.
“It was the first nice day,” she laughed. “I’m usually in the music building all day, and we all like a little fresh air. In a different acoustic (setting), they hear each other in a different way. It’s good musically, as well as for the soul.”
The choir’s season runs from September through May. Children interested in joining this fall should contact Doherty at 815-753-2435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Auditions will be held this summer; not to determine who will be accepted, but to give Doherty a chance to know what musical materials she will need to order.
“We have plenty of space for as many kids that want to be in it,” she said, adding that bigger is probably better with children. “We strive to sing the most beautiful choral music written.”
The CSA will cap off this season with their spring concert at 7 p.m. May 14. The concert is free and will be held in the NIU School of Music building.