Virginia youth choirs to perform in local concert

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Two advanced sections of the Virginia Children’s Chorus will serenade the audience this Sunday afternoon when they appear at Southampton High School. The members of “Hampton Roads’ premiere children’s chorus” will be the next guests of the Franklin-Southampton Concert Association at 3 o’clock.

Carol Thomas Downing, founder and artistic director, is bringing the Concert Choir and Chamber Singers from her nearly 150-member chorus.

“There are four choir groups starting at age 6,” Downing said about the organization. “We have a training choir for our children in second through fourth grades, and then they can move to the Choristers for fourth through seventh grade, approximately. Then they can move up to the Concert Choir, which is the highest level treble choir. All the voices are high and feature all sopranos and altos. There are approximately 45 members; and 22 in the Chamber Singers. Once the boys’ voices change, they can go to the Chambers.”

That group, she said, features advanced work with an emphasis on close harmony and using standard soprano, alto, tenor and base literature.

There’s no theme for this show, but it will be a “best of the best of their repertoire” opening with a few selections from the familiar “West Side Story.”

The Chambers singers will perform the first half with what Downing called classical choices. These include “Viva La Musica!” by David Brunner; pieces from Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem” and “Hark All Ye Lovely Saints Above” by Thomas Weelkes.

“Prayer of the Children,” a contemporary number, will be conducted by Paul Putnam, who’s the new choral director at Smithfield High School.

“He’s an extremely gifted conductor, singer and pianist,” she said.

For her part, Downing will conduct the singing of the Concert Choir in the second half, which will include one movement from a larger work by regional composer Adolphus Hailstork. Two other works will be Peter Mayer’s “Now Touch the Air Softly” and Wendell Berry’s poem set to music, “The Law That Marries All Things.”

“That features all sorts of interesting things, such as birdsong. It’s a mixture of a cappella and accompaniment,” she said.

Speaking of which, Welby Pugin will perform on piano as the accompanist during the concert.

“Can You Hear Me?” by Bob Chilcott will feature signing for the deaf, and Downing calls this piece “extremely moving and asks what it might be like to walk in those shoes.”

“Bumblebee” by The Real Group, “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin and “I’m Going Up Yonder” by Walter Hawkins are also on the program.

The two choruses will combine to sing “Look at the World” by John Rutter.


The Virginia Children’s Chorus is the proverbial labor of love for Downing.

“I founded the choir in 1992 when my husband and I moved from Baltimore. Prior to this I founded the Peabody Children’s Chorus,” she said. “I have always sung [individually] and in choirs, and earned my master’s in music education. My focus was on Zoltan Kodar’s method. Most of my skills I picked up at seminars, workshops and observation, and classroom teaching in 1970s.”

Downing “got serious” about children’s choir singing in 1989, the year she started the Peabody group.

“That’s when I discovered how much I loved working with children’s choirs,” she said.

Soon after moving to the Tidewater region, Downing saw there were no real community children’s choirs outside of churches. She made her interest known in organizing one and got support.

“Everyone said, ‘Please start this.’ We started with around 30 singers and it’s grown steadily since then,” Downing said.

Other adults who work with the children include Louisa Priorie for the training group, and Don Burt, a sight-reading teacher. All of the children receive Kodar training, Downing added.

For ticket information and details, call Nancy Rowe at 562-2498 or Bill Vick at 653-2892.