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Sunday, May 3, 2009
The Utah Children's Choir's 25th Birthday Party

It was a fine concert in a very comfortable hall.

I had the pleasure last evening of attending the Utah Children's Choir's 25th Anniversary concert at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo (click for a  virtual tour). An excellent, relatively new venue, the Covey Center is the fruit of a marriage between $8.5 million and the old Provo Public Library building on West Center Street. American Fork -- which is a much smaller city -- would do well to have such a venue, but I'm told the local arts community is thinking of something bigger, a regional attraction, not just a local one. But that's a story for another day -- and perhaps another blogger.

The Utah Children's Choir is based in Pleasant Grove and now is partially sponsored by Pleasant Grove City, but it draws young singers from several communities in Utah Valley. For example, at least one Rodeback from American Fork has sung in the choir for most of the last decade, and its long-time accompanist, MFCC, lives at my address, too. Lately, the Choir has performed at least once a year in the refurbished American Fork City Hall, which is a pleasant venue for recitals and small concerts.

There are actually two choirs, the Concert Choir and a training choir called the UCC Choristers. Some of the Choristers are as young as eight years old; some members of the Concert Choir are in high school. Boys are welcome in the choir, too, until their voices change. I don't recall ever seeing the choir without some boys in it.

Kay Asay has been UCC's director for all of its 25 years. The choir staff includes a superb vocal coach, Marilyn Rudolph, as well as assistant director, Allison Unsworth, a business manager, and an active parents organization.

Though by no means as elite as the choirs of the Madeleine Choir School in Salt Lake City, UCC is a comparatively serious children's choir, by which I mean they sing serious choral music and do it well. They don't travel as much as they used to, but they have sung in Carnegie Hall in New York City; in Florence, Italy; and in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Closer to home, they've performed at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, including a broadcast performance with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; have sung the children's chorus parts in several BYU opera productions; and have sung John Rutter's Mass of the Children with the Timpanogos Chorale. (Watch for an encore performance of the Rutter mass at American Fork's amphitheater on June 1.)

Saturday evening's concert was mostly typical, in that it consisted of about a dozen numbers by the Concert Choir, several by the Choristers, and a few combined numbers. The unusual feature was an impressive alumni choir assembled for the anniversary, which sang both by itself and with the children.

I won't do a thorough review of the program, but the first six pieces by the Concert Choir will give you a sense of the literature they tend to sing.

They began with a signature piece, "Come, Ye Makers of Song," which they sing in nearly every concert, so I have heard it many times. There is a temptation to get casual and careless with a signature piece, because of its sheer familiarity, and especially when the choir is already a bit tired from a long afternoon rehearsal. But there was no evidence of that here. The signature was precisely and beautifully executed.

Then they sang a very slightly simplified "Alleluia" from Mozart's Exultate, Jubilate. This familiar piece was simplified in the sense that some -- not all -- of the sixteenth-note runs were reduced at least partially to eighth notes. This rather unforgiving song was nicely done.

Franz Schubert's "Der Musensohn" followed, sung in German. I'm not fluent in German, but it sounded authentic to my relatively untrained ear, and in musical terms it may have been the children's most impressive performance of the evening.

There followed a Southern folk tune, "The Lone, Wild Bird," and a classic Scottish song, "Annie Laurie." Then came a piece commissioned by the Utah Children's Choir for this anniversary year, "To This Day," by noted local composer Nathan Hofheins, on a Sanskrit text. The choir's performance of this intriguing, difficult piece was not as clean as the earlier Schubert song, but was quite pleasant nonetheless.

The only UCC staple missing from the early part of the concert was the African-American spiritual, four of which came later in the program. Before the concert was over, one of the choirs or another would also sing in Spanish, Japanese, and Hebrew, and we would hear works by Handel, Copland, Purcell, and Rutter, as well as several more folksongs and some more recent choral literature.

A final thought: I occasionally get to conduct a choir, though never this one. Once or twice, as I have prepared an inexperienced, somewhat timid group for a performance to be attended mostly by their families, I have said something like this: "Don't worry. This will be good. And even if it's not, it will be your families out there. They'll think they're hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir." I mention this because the Utah Children's Choir is not like that. Their sound is routinely excellent even to unrelated ears.

It was a fine concert in a very comfortable hall.

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