Sunday, May 13, 2012

Awed by the St. Louis Children's Choirs

Last night we attended one of the 2012 Spring Concerts for the St. Louis Children's Choirs, with an emphasis on the plural Choirs. At the 7 p.m. program we saw three distinct choirs perform, with a finale that brought everyone onstage -- including a number of alumna.

The Choirs use the college paradigm of graduates and alumna more seriously than we knew before last night, this being the first season-culminating concert in which our daughter Leyla Fern performed. A major highlight of the program, as impressive as the impeccable singing, was the recognition of the graduating high school seniors leaving the Choirs after as many as 11 years.

I'm not a terrific fan of ceremonies, and skipped all of my own graduations, so I don't have the widest experience base when I say these were the best graduation speeches I have ever heard. But these were the best graduation speeches I have ever heard. The quality of narrative and impact of anecdote were overmatched only by the total command and poise at the microphone.

What these youth testified about the Choirs gave a clue to how they got this poised, experienced and articulate. A series of graduating seniors testified to the adventures of world travel tempered by the rigors of discipline, all experienced as a cohort of young people making their way across the greatest stages of the world. A Disney movie about the Choirs would do less to communicate the elusive magic of collective artistic endeavor than the successive statements of these teenagers.

We got the sense there is something physical, something tangible going on here. In attention to the tough love of conductors who expect precise musical achievement, these youth are shaped by an organization that has an unabashed healing mission, namely, that music can heal the world. It's a message that is shown to them as well as taught, as the youth all testified to choir practice providing what one graduate, Will O'Brien, described as "weekly healing sessions".

We watched our daughter onstage, singing in one of the two most junior of the Children's Choirs, and we felt secure in a way that parents seldom are allowed to feel these days, when we tend to question all authority and every influence on our youth, for very good reasons.

This morning, my wife, a thrifty African immigrant, said, "I don't always give extra money to all of these organizations we're already paying for their services, but I am going to give these Children's Choir people some more money."

Sounds good to me.

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