Richard Watts | Times Colonist
June 2, 2016 10:10 AM
What: Arbutus Singers
Where: First Metropolitan United Church, 932 Balmoral Rd. at Quadra Street
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15 for adults, $30 for families and $12 for seniors and students; 250-384-2840
Since seven-year-old Simone Cameron joined a school choir, her mom has noticed a change. She doesn’t just sing songs now, she practises them.
“The thing that I see that is different is she wants to work on her music,” said mother Jeanine Demmler.
“She comes home and likes to practise the songs and work on her parts in them a lot,” Demmler said.
Simone is a pupil at James Bay Community School, which has initiated a program for young children called ChoirKids, founded and supported by the Arbutus Singers, Victoria’s largest non-auditioned adult choir.
ChoirKids was founded in 2006 as the Arbutus Singers Music Education Society. The intention was to raise money to fund the operation of young people’s choirs.
Since it was created, more than 800 children have sung with ChoirKids. It has choirs in four schools: James Bay Community, Craigflower Elementary, Victoria West Elementary and Tillicum Community.
Now, the responsibility for and administration of ChoirKids is passing to the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Arbutus Singers will still play a role as fundraisers, but the day-to-day operation will be handled by the conservatory.
Jack Boomer, volunteer director of the Arbutus Singers and one of the founders of ChoirKids, said it’s believed the change will be a good fit for everybody.
On Sunday, a performance of the Arbutus Singers at First Metropolitan United Church will feature an appearance by ChoirKids. There will also be a small handover ceremony to mark the program’s passing to the conservatory.
Boomer said the Arbutus Singers, with the encouragement of the Victoria Foundation, has been trying to reduce the number of community groups taking part in a service such as children’s music, without reducing the service.
Ultimately, he said, the goal has always been to offer a choir experience for kids without putting any barriers in their way.
The early years of ChoirKids have already worked out some kinks, Boomer said.
For example, initially it was thought choir practices should be offered on Saturdays, outside school hours. It just didn’t work. Neither kids nor their families could make the ongoing commitment. So they switched to weekdays.
They have also learned to shut down ChoirKids in the spring. When the weather becomes sunny, young children will just resent being indoors.
With ChoirKids passing to the Victoria Conservatory, Boomer said he expects there will be changes.
“Nothing ever stays the same and nobody expects it to, but we think this will be a fantastic opportunity for the kids,” Boomer said.
“We expect the Conservatory will be saying: ‘This is a good idea and we can make it even better,’ ” he said.
Stephen Green, dean of the Victoria Conservatory of Music, said ChoirKids will be a good fit for the outreach program it already operates in some schools.
Green said he doesn’t expect the children to read music or to be part of a program in which they pass and move along.
It’s all about experiencing music.
“So they are coming together to learn to sing and develop their own musical abilities,” he said.
Lori Burley, principal of Tillicum School, said the program was such a success at her school it inspired her to join Arbutus Singers.
“It’s a high-quality experience for the kids,” Burley said. “They start off playing some song games and, by the second or third month, they are singing the whole song.
“And it’s beautiful,” she said.
To support ChoirKids, Arbutus Singers are featuring two performances this weekend offering music by Gershwin and including popular music by others, including James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon.
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