Countywide chorus an uplifting experience

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 24, 2011

What a weekend! I’m still on an emotional high from spending this past weekend watching the Rowan-Salisbury Fifth Grade Honors Chorus grow together through song. There is the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it takes a village to put on a professional choral production with fifth grade students.
Rowan-Salisbury Schools has been blessed in producing many artistic endeavors over the years. One of those endeavors is the fifth grade music festival each spring. The festival grew out of a vision of two elementary music teachers, Lucy Shue and Beth Yelvington, seven years ago. They had a vision children should be able not only to participate in a choral experience on a large level, but also benefit from working with a real-live composer.
David Hagy, the conductor of the Salisbury Symphony, actually had the vision of a countywide chorus first. He asked the elementary music teachers, in a meeting, if they were willing for a fifth grade chorus to sing with the Salisbury Symphony. Of course, each music teacher was excited. The countywide chorus now has been singing with the orchestra for a little more than 20 years. The music festival, being two days of intense rehearsals, is a wonderful addition to the symphony experience and gives the children a different perspective by singing in harmony and adding choreography.
The vision for the first music festival came true in 2005, with Sally Albrecht as the clinician. Known in the music world as a popular conductor, composer, and clinician, Sally was chosen to direct the festival not only because of her musicianship, but also her ability to work with and motivate children to perform. She was asked to come back in 2006, and due to her popularity, was asked again this year for the third time. Feeling honored, she wrote a premiere piece, especially for the Rowan-Salisbury Concert, entitled, “Thunder.”
Parents, students and teachers expressed many comments throughout the two-day event. One group of Cleveland students used words like “Awesome,” “Groovy” and “It’s amazing.” Kelly Hain, a parent and kindergarten teacher at Hurley Elementary School, expressed how she had seen her child, Lily, grow with newfound confidence as she practiced the songs, wondering how her mom knew the words to some of them.
A student who performed last year, Samantha Hensley, summed it up by saying, “I loved it. It was fun. My favorite part was when we performed, and everyone came to watch. I also liked getting to see my friends from other schools. If I could, I would get on the stage right now and do it again.”
There is no better recommendation for the success of a program than a student who has been part of the process before.
This event did not happen by itself. It does take a village, such as the 13 music teachers who serve approximately 10,000 students, practicing often before or after school. Then, there’s grant money from the Blanche and Julian Robertson foundation, and donations of time, money and services from various local businesses and organizations. Included in the village are Dr. Sarah Hensley, an administrator, who believes in educating the whole child, and the awesome accompanist, Susan Trivette, who volunteers every year to play the piano. Of course, this musical experience could not happen without the support of parents and the willingness of children involved. It is a lot of hard work. One music teacher, Tiffany Garcia, put things into perspective by saying, “The children begin to see the reality of time, and that music is not instantaneous. To prepare something like an Honors Chorus performance is a slice of temporal reality in a microwave culture.”
The two-day festival concluded with the 180-voice Fifth Grade Honors Chorus singing at 4 p.m. Some songs had the audience laughing, while others produced a few tears. No amount of words could ever express the emotional roller coaster ride each and every person took that day. For two days, at South Rowan High School, a diverse group of children bonded together, just like the song they sang, by Greg Gilpin, “We are one in music. We are one in song.” Wouldn’t it be great if the whole world learned the words to this song and lived by them? Sally Albrecht, are you up for the challenge?
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Dicy McCullough is the author of a children’s book, “Tired of My Bath,” which is available at Literary Bookpost, Treasures Hidden, Corner Books and More in China Grove and