A Group With All the Right Notes

EVER dream of singing and dancing on stage - not when you grow up, but right now? Kids all over the country find a few such opportunities in schools or in community theater. But in Denver, kids as young as second graders can audition for the Colorado Children's Chorale. Singing and dancing on stage becomes second nature as the members of the Chorale grow up into energetic teenagers.

The Children's Chorale is in its 19th season. It was started in 1974 for the Central City Opera production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Participating children and their parents loved the experience so much, they asked artistic director Duain Wolfe to keep the chorus going.

The Children's Chorale grew - a lot. There are now five separate choirs, with a total of 350 children from grades two through eight. The youngest ones in second grade join the Prep Choir. You might think kids who audition would be chosen strictly on the basis of singing ability. But more important than a good voice is a good attitude - a cheerful, enthusiastic face and something called stage presence. Stage presence is hard to describe, but it has to do with being comfortable on stage and being fun to wa tch for the audience.

A child can stay in Prep Choir from one to three years, depending on how ready he or she might be to go on to the next step. Kids learn the basics about singing and about reading musical notes. Once in awhile, the Prep Choir gets to perform for parents or for a senior center. And each Christmas, the Prep Choir joins up with the other choirs of the Chorale to perform a wonderful program.

The next level is the Apprentice Choir, where the children learn more about music and get some beginning instruction in stage movement - which is a lot like dance, only a little freer. If kids stick with Apprentice for a year or so, they are then ready to progress on to Concert Choir. Concert Choir does most of the performing in the Denver metropolitan area.

In Concert Choir, performers get used to being on stage a lot, remembering where and when to move, remembering to stand up straight so the music will come out clean and strong. Young singers in Concert Choir learn more about music, and they memorize lots of songs for their various programs.

Then, if kids are still excited about choir (and it takes loads of energy and excitement to do a good job on stage), they can go on to Regional Tour Choir. Part of their job is to travel around Colorado performing in schools that have a musical theater focus. They also get to help create a whole musical performance.

Finally, there is National Tour Choir, which has toured around the county for three weeks each year for the past eight years. The National Tour Choir has also had opportunities to travel abroad - to Switzerland, Britain, France - and this year a second trip to the People's Republic of China. (The first time was in 1982).

Imagine being an eighth grader traveling with the choir - most of whom are friends you've known since second grade. You've spent so much time with these kids in rehearsals, performances, and music camp, and you've learned to get along so well, you don't even miss your home too much when you travel. You've already learned how to be away from home every summer in music camp. There are seven adults traveling with you on your big, comfortable bus. And if you should get a little lonely for your parents, the s taff is ready to play games with you or just talk.

But all the kids are there for you, too.

"We all get along really well because we need to," says Anne, an eighth-grader who has been with the Chorale since second grade. "We're all together, so we need to be sort of like a family. I've had one really good friend since the time I started. I've met new friends. Boys and girls get along really well, too."

What Anne likes best about working with the Chorale is being on stage. (But getting there is half the fun, and rehearsals are great, too.) "I love hearing the applause - to know people appreciate you, and to know so many people like seeing you perform, jump and dance and sing," she says.

"To get a performance together takes a lot of rehearsal and a lot of people back stage - from wardrobe to light to people setting out our water. And it involves a lot of work from us in learning all the songs and the choreography and coming to rehearsal. We rehearse 2 1/2 hours twice a week. We begin with warm-ups to get settled in. We learn new music, work on songs we already know, go over choreography, or learn new dances," Anne says.

David, a seventh-grader who has been with the Chorale since the third grade, says, "It's fun performing. Not many kids get to perform in front of thousands or hundreds. Sometimes you get nervous, but mostly it's going out and having fun. The dancing makes it funner instead of having to stay still. And moving around makes the audience enjoy it more."

David likes to travel very much, but both he and Anne like the "home stays" best of all. In some of the cities they visit, the manager has arranged for the Chorale kids to stay with different families for two or three days. They must be on their best behavior, of course, but they meet lots of new friends and enjoy doing what their home-stay families do.

Traveling means getting away from school. The children take school work and study for two hours a day on the bus. A tutor comes along to help. When they can, the staff take the children to local libraries and assign essays inspired by the history of the city they are visiting.

Kids are expected to behave extremely well because they are ambassadors for the Chorale and for Colorado. The staff has a lot of fun acting silly, and then asking the kids what's wrong with their behavior. Everybody laughs and points out what the adults are doing wrong. The upcoming trip to China means lots of new information - all about the customs, geography, and history of the country, along with some Chinese songs. It also includes instructions on behavior.

"We've been told how extremely well-behaved the children are in China," says Anne, "so that put the pressure on." The members of the Tour Choir are already perfectly well behaved because, say Anne and David, their director, Mr. Wolfe, expects it of them all the time.

To teach them how to use chopsticks, a Chinese restaurant in Denver donated a feast to the 32 members of the choir, because forks, spoons, and knives won't be available in most of the restaurants they will visit.

"I'm going to try to eat everything with chopsticks until I get it down," says David.

"I'm just starting to get excited," says Anne. "I already know how to use chopsticks. I've been reading some books on China on my own. My mother knows some people from China so we've had some people come over and tell me what its going to be like."

It does take a special dedication to be a member of the Colorado Children's Chorale. "Being a Chorale member has been a big part of my life," says Anne. "Going to two rehearsals a week for the last seven years. And it takes dedication from my parents as well. They have to drive me everywhere.... They are both very proud of me." `Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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