BENNINGTON -- As of this year the Bennington Children's Chorus has been bringing Vermont youth together for a quarter of a century to sing and perform across the state and country. The chorus has been active seven years longer than the oldest of its members has been alive.
The chorus, founded Barbara Kourajian, is currently run by Kerry Ryer-Parke. And it's on the hunt for talented young singers interested in performing with the likes of Sage Symphony and Battenkill Chorale.
It's pretty amazing that in this small rural community we can keep a non-profit like this going for 25 years," Ryer-Parke said.
The first rehearsal is Jan. 17, those interested should contact Lauren Gotlieb at 413-346-8146 or by email at Lauren.E.Gotlieb@Williams.com. No auditions are necessary, as the group is all inclusive, but they are especially looking for older singers to bolster their ranks. The chorus' first performance will be in mid-March.
The chorus is broken up into two groups, a junior ensemble which goes from ages 7 to 11, and a senior ensemble of 12 to 18-year-olds. The latter ensemble is the one that does the majority of the touring and performing. Some students join directly to the senior ensemble but many students will join at the age of seven and stick with it through their 18th birthday.
"I had always loved to sing, but the environment of the BCC was different than any other learning environment I had experienced before," Children's Chorus graduate and Crane School of Music student Katie Beck, who is helping out with the chorus this year said via email. "What I did know after just a few rehearsals was that I was captivated by the (Ryer-Parke.) She brings such incredible energy and learning styles to children of all ages.
"Historically, the chorus has worked with local composers to create original pieces for the chorus and this year will be no different. Nick Brooke, a professor at Bennington College, was commissioned to do one of the pieces
"It's a pretty amazing little group of kids," Ryer-Parke said. "We do really sophisticated music."
In other years the chorus has sung in English, and Romance languages commonly associated with classical music. But they've also worked in Serbian and Czech.
"The harder (the language) is the more they like it," Ryer-Parke said. "People will sell kids short sometimes, but they've never let me down . There's never been a limit to what they've been able to do."
Each performer has to sing without sheet music or lyrics cards, an added challenge for the young singers.
"(Ryer-Parke) also is somewhat demanding of her singers: the chorus almost always performs music completely by memory," Beck said. "For difficult classical music, that is a feat that many students at the high school (level) cannot manage. Performing as part of the Bennington Children's Chorus gives students who love to sing an intimate, positive environment to practice and become a part of a real, close-knit singing community. "
"There is no more beautiful sound than the pure, innocent child's voice coupled with a beautiful melody," Kourajian said via email. "I still get choked up when I attend a concert and hear those first unison sounds of the youngest singers. This sound touches something deep within."
Check next week's Arts and Entertainment page for an in-depth profile of Kerry Ryer-Parke and the Children's chorus.