PUBLISHED: 4:27 PM on Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Group learns more than songs
Alaska Youth Choir
Members of Juneau's Alaska Youth Choir are learning more than musical notes and lyrics.

AYC, a nonprofit organization that services youth in Juneau ages 6-18, selects members by audition process.

The regular season for the three choirs - Preparatory, Intermediate and Concert - runs concurrent with the school year with a concert each December and May to close out the session. However, the work doesn't stop there for the concert choir, which consists of children 10-18. The choir attends a tour each summer. Former locations include Hawaii, San Francisco, Florida, New Orleans, New York and Italy. In June AYC students attended the Coastal Sound International Choir Festival at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, which featured 18 choirs from areas such as Australia, Denmark, United States of America and Canada. AYC had 16 students attend the trip.

Courtesy photo
  Members of Juneau's Alaska Youth Chorus recently participated in the Coastal Sound International Choir Festival in British Columbia, Canada.
"It was a small group, but they have a great, beautiful sound. There were 500 voices at this festival. We were one of the smaller choirs but when you put them all the voices together that's a lot of young people. It was quite an incredible experience," said Missouri Smyth, AYC artistic director. "It's a life changing experience for the kids and for those who attend. It's a great educational opportunity for choristers to travel and experience other cultures and be able to sing in those places as well. The music of the places we visit breaks down language barriers and is the common thread of how that music binds everyone together Because it is something common to everyone. It doesn't matter what class you are - how wealthy or poor you are - music is something that speaks to everybody."

Students stayed in dorms during the festival and were responsible for getting ready in the morning and being on time to all rehearsals and concerts with the assistance of chaperones.

"This can be overwhelming for some of the younger choristers however, the new choristers we took on tour this year were excellent," Smyth said.

Choristers were also given an opportunity to sing in various languages, including Latin, Spanish and English, something Smyth said AYC choristers are used to doing.

"They get exposed to a broad spectrum of music from different music periods and in different languages - Latin, German, French, Russian, Spanish - and many others," Smyth said. "While we were at the festival there was a choir of Asian boys from Cupertina, Calif. The Alaska Youth Choir kids had learned a Chinese Folk Song and when they sang the folk song, the Asian boys knew it. We invited them to sing the Chinese Folk Song with us in concert. It was special to see how just learning that piece of music connected our choristers with their choristers whether they know each other or not. It closed the language barrier and developed trust."

Smyth said the experience of being in the choir also teaches lessons of responsibility not only to self but also to others.

"Some of the older choristers who have been in the choir for several years so they become mentors and big brothers/big sisters to the younger ones who are little less experienced. It is touching to see the caring and loving interaction between the older choristers and the new choristers," Smyth said. "You get a wide variety of personalities that come together and to form a musical community where they have to learn to adjust, contribute, and get along with each other. I've seen young kids who have come into the choir that are shy and by the end of the year sing with confidence; and some who are not so shy that are very outgoing that have adjusted to a group dynamic. So what choir does is brings them together for the music. Singing and sharing their voices together unifies them because they rely upon each other to contribute their own unique voice to make a beautiful sound."

Members of the choir do pay a yearly tuition, which is used for contract labor, music, uniforms and administrative costs, Smyth said. Scholarships are available through the Grace Akiyama Scholarship Fund and the Akiyama Family Endowment. The next AYC audition is from 5-7 p.m. Aug. 27-31 at Northern Lights United Church.

"The kids connect to the music they sing," Smyth said. "It addresses all aspects of their lives, including times of sadness, happiness, love, peace and unity," Smyth said. "I know the kids use the music they have learned to see them through these time periods. Even after they leave AYC they remember the music they sang. All children must have music in their lives."