|By Lori Szepelak|
SOUTH HADLEY Area children can once again expect a "productive, fun atmosphere" as Dr. Catharine Melhorn gears up for the start of the South Hadley Children's Chorus rehearsals next month.
For parents interested in signing up their children for the chorus, the last day to audition is Sept. 8 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the South Hadley Center Congregational Church. Melhorn will conduct 10-minute informal auditions that require no previous preparation. Boys and girls ages eight to 13 from the surrounding towns are welcome to participate.
"The audition merely tests a child's ability to read words and match pitches," said Melhorn during an interview with Reminder Publications.
Founded in 2001, the chorus begins its third year under Melhorn who formerly served as choral director at Mount Holyoke College. Highlights of the 2008-09 season include two performances with orchestra, Orff's Carmina Burana with the Springfield Symphony and Mahler's Third Symphony with the Smith College Orchestra. Performances will also include collaborations with "Mak'hela," the Jewish Chorus of Western Massachusetts, with the South Hadley Chorale, and appearances at Loomis Village and the Holyoke Children's Museum.
Chorus members rehearse on Wednesdays from September through May at the church from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m.
"Children learn high-quality, age-appropriate songs from a variety of cultural traditions," said Melhorn. "They also learn good vocal technique, self-discipline and poise."
Subsidized by the South Hadley Chorale and several generous community patrons, as well as a grant from the South Hadley Cultural Council, the chorus also depends on an annual membership fee of $100. Melhorn noted there are discounts for siblings and scholarships are available.
"Singing is a basic form of human expression," she said. "Unfortunately, there are many people who grow to adulthood without ever discovering their own singing voice, who are in fact unable to carry a tune and who think of themselves as unmusical or untalented."
Melhorn noted that the town is "lucky" to have excellent music teachers who are doing good work in the public schools.
"But in many other communities, music education is either underfunded or completely lacking, and many home-schooled and parochial school children have few opportunities to pursue vocal or instrumental music," she said.
Melhorn touted the community children's chorus since its offers a "great deal to kids" who either want to go beyond what their school situation can provide, or who want something where there is nothing.
Melhorn holds degrees from Smith College, the University of California Berkeley, and the University of Illinois. She has led Mount Holyoke choirs on tours throughout the world most recently to China and Wales. Having directed the "very successful" Mount Holyoke Children's Choir from 1987-91, she is "thrilled" to be working again with the Pioneer Valley's youngest singers. Professional pianist Barbara Lissandri assists Melhorn with arrangements.
Melhorn emphasized that throughout her many years of teaching, unless there is a medical or physical disability, any child can learn to sing if given the opportunity.
"Singing in a well-run community children's chorus is a perfect start," she said. "With no pressure and lots of encouragement, in a disciplined but fun rehearsal atmosphere, kids encounter high-quality vocal literature from various cultural traditions and achieve artistic success through shared goals and sustained effort."
Melhorn added that studies have shown that for children involved in studying and performing music, they are more likely to do well in other academic areas and life pursuits.
Unfortunately, Melhorn cannot accept all children who audition since she must maintain a good balance of ages and abilities to ensure a satisfying experience for the children who are already members.
"Often I accept a child to the chorus on the spot, and sometimes, alas, I give the child and parents a heads-up as to why I cannot accept him or her at this time," said Melhorn, adding that some children may be too young for the group setting, are not yet reading, or cannot match pitch and do not show the immediate potential to improve.
After a long career of conducting university-aged students and adult singers, performing the "great" choral masterworks, leading orchestras and touring the globe, Melhorn finds it "refreshing now" in retirement to apply her experience and training to a different but equally challenging musical enterprise.
"The kids keep me on my toes," she said, adding, "I have always loved teaching, finding ways to communicate concepts, and generating enthusiasm and commitment."
One of her greatest rewards is when the chorus "gets it," she said, adding, "that's exciting. It's also very rewarding to witness children from different schools or backgrounds connect with each other through the music."
In addition to children learning to read music, they also learn valuable lessons about working together to achieve a desired result.
"Sometimes things don't come easily, I and they, get tired and even a bit cross," said Melhorn. "So we switch gears, let go, laugh. By the next rehearsal we see improvement."
Melhorn noted that strategy also works for a lot of life situations.
"Perhaps the most important lesson that the children learn is how wonderful it feels to bring joy to others, which they certainly do," she added.
To schedule an audition or for more information on the chorus, contact Melhorn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (413) 548-1098.