Volume 73, Number 44 | March 3 - 9, 2004

Maestro, if you please: Kids tune in to N.Y.U. chorus

By Melanie Wallis

Above and bottom, members of the N.Y.U. Children’s Chorus in rehearsal.

New York University’s Children’s Chorus offers children as young as 5 years old the chance to practice and perform in choral singing. The chorus, which meets once a week on Tuesdays, is a community outreach project that finds space in between lectures in the university’s Loewe Theater auditorium, at 35 W. Fourth St.
The program is 45 minutes — from 3:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. — and children come from all over the community to participate. Most of them are home-schooled. However, there are children who attend from Village Community School, P.S. 41, St. Ann’s in Brooklyn and professional children’s schools.

Elaine Gates, the director of the N.Y.U. Children’s Chorus, explains that there are no audition requirements to join. “We are the only chorus that doesn’t require auditions and also to take children so young. Most choruses require the children to be over 12 years old,” she noted. “The only requirements I ask of children who want to join is that they want to be here, that they’re not forced into it by the parents and that they have a commitment to attend every Tuesday.”

Gates, who is a semi-retired professor in music education, said she felt it was important for children to learn how to sing properly from an early age. “Here at N.Y.U. we teach children from a very young age the techniques of how to sing properly by teaching posture, diction, phrasing, voice placement and mouth positioning,” she said, explaining that proper mouth positioning is “opening the mouth north to south as opposed to east to west.” “With children being influenced by singers on TV, they may start singing from the throat which could do permanent damage,” Gates stressed.

The attendance so far has been high. Last year a record 105 students participated. The numbers have fallen slightly this year to about 90.

The children receive attentive teaching since the chorus is well staffed. There are six conductors who are volunteering students and one accompanist (a pianist), in addition to director Gates. The conductors take turns conducting a piece to the children, while the remaining conductors stand around the group, at the back and sides, encouraging and helping the children to sing along to the instructions.

Gates says the program is not only for the children but also to help N.Y.U. music students with choral conducting techniques before they start their student teaching. Senior conductors generally choose a whole piece of music, while the younger, new conductors pick a third of a piece to work with. The kids are given word sheets to keep and take home to practice.

Bianca Paholak, 7, and her sister Milah, 6, who attend P.S. 41, love the chorus and enthusiastically practice the songs at home. “I usually record the songs and we all practice at home,” said their mom.

The children cover a whole repertoire of music. This semester they will cover music by Handel, Dixon and Henderson, Papoulis, Agnestig and Whittemore. Debra Tuzman, a senior conductor with the choir said, “The music covers different languages, music of different cultures, 20th century, classical, American folk, pop.… We like to vary it every semester.”

At the beginning of the term, the children sing fun songs, but are already divided into groups and learning to sing different words and harmonies at the same time. The idea is that if they learn the proper technique while singing a fun song, they can then apply this skill to a more complex piece of music.

The chorus term started at the end of January and the chorus will still be accepting children for the current term into the second week of March. An end-of-term concert is scheduled for Thurs., April 29.

For more information on the N.Y.U. Children’s Chorus, contact Elaine Gates at 212-998-5539.


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