SOUTH HADLEY Cathy Melhorn blends music lessons with life lessons beautifully on Wednesday afternoons in Center Congregational Church.
Melhorn, director of the South Hadley Children's Chorus, began with a valuable lesson for all ages on the afternoon of Feb. 27 - "be kind to each other," she said, adding, "and make a choir friend." Melhorn explained to the children that two youngsters had recently resigned from the chorus since they felt no one took the time to get to know them.
"You are all important and valuable to this chorus," Melhorn said, noting that proper social skills are an integral part of being a member of the chorus.
After some brief chorus "rules" and warm-up exercises, Melhorn reminded children they only have two more rehearsals before their March 16 performance with the South Hadley Chorale in Abbey Chapel at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley.
Melhorn noted during an interview with Reminder Publications that their public concerts are more ambitious from a year ago.
"The children seem to learn songs more quickly and they sing in tune, with a great deal of energy," she said.
Energy was evident throughout the rehearsal, from the moment they started performing "Sing," and "Rainbow Connection," to a modern version of "Amazing Grace." In between, children rehearsed "Green Mountain," a Taiwanese folk song with Chinese words, and "The Incredible Mr. Toad," one of several frog and toad songs being learned for a performance at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst in May.
"Our main goal is still to provide a joyful singing experience for the children, in rehearsal and in performance," Melhorn said.
Melhorn is assisted by professional pianist Barbara Lissandri, and new choral assistant, Beckie Markarian, who graduated as a music major from Mount Holyoke College last June.
Children will perform alongside Bob McGrath of Sesame Street and the Smith College Orchestra in a concert on March 29 in the John M. Greene Hall at Smith College, Northampton. The Amherst Ballet will also be part of the 3 p.m. show.
"For this concert, we'll join the junior division of the Hampshire Young People's Chorus directed by KC Conlan, and also the Smith College Orchestra," Melhorn said. "The kids are learning songs like 'Rubber Duckie,' 'Bein' Green,' 'Your Face,' and 'Rainbow Connection' which should delight children of all ages."
The chorus will close out its season on May 4 at 3 p.m. at the Eric Carle Museum as part of a tribute to author and illustrator Arnold Lobel, known for his Frog and Toad book series. The concert will feature songs about frogs and toads, a skit on "The Wide-mouthed Frog" with audience participation, rounds and a story.
Members of the chorus are Joselyn Beaulieu, Sadie Buck, Timothy Edwards, Sunny Feng, Jonah Ferdman-Hayden, Jenitza Fernandez, Sydney Fowles, Madison Garvin, Meghan Goshea, Makenna Hambley, Allison Jenks, Samantha Jenks, Kasey Johnson, Ryan Knoechelman, Angela LeBel and Sarah Liebowitz. Also, Eaden Marti, Nadia Marti, Nicole Niemiec, Samantha Nyarko, Funto Omojola, Tosin Omojola, Margaret Polglaze, Demiselle Raza, Maniesse Raza, Mia Raza, Kayla Roy, Taylor Roy, Tessa Sweeney, Nicole Tripp, Samantha Tripp and Mikayla Willard.
"Our average age is young 8.5 so it's challenging to hold the interest of our older singers, while not overwhelming the younger ones," said Melhorn. "We program a lot of unison songs, as part-singing takes some time to develop through rounds, partner songs and melodies in dialogue."
The community chorus, sponsored by the adult South Hadley Chorale, is comprised of children from surrounding towns who range in age from seven to 13.
Melhorn delights at the progress the children have made this season not only by learning music and exhibiting good vocal technique but by their poise and ability to maintain their attention and focus.
When the children were asked what they enjoyed most about being a part of the chorus, their overwhelming responses were making new friends and having an avenue to sing.
In early June, Melhorn will conduct short, informal interviews and auditions for next year's chorus. Interested parents can contact her for more information at (413) 548-1098 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Individuals and businesses interested in corporate sponsorships for upcoming events are encouraged to contact Melhorn. Currently, the chorus receives financial support from the South Hadley Chorale, parent fees, the South Hadley Cultural Council, and corporate sponsors including Providence Place, Mount Holyoke College and South Hadley dentist Dr. R. Scott Smith.