August of 2015 marked my first opportunity to tell readers of Athens Now about the Heritage Children’s Chorale, and to speak at length with their founder, Mary Stephenson. Mary is also the choir director at First United Methodist Church in Athens, and she is a highly trained musician herself. I can say as well from personal observation, she is an excellent chorale director.
Nearly 30 years ago, Mary became concerned with the lack of choral training available to “regular kids in the neighborhood.” Chorus was dropped from schools, singing as a community in general was waning, and she wanted to pay forward the opportunity she had been given as a child growing up in New York City. The Chorale was born, and with branches in Athens and Pulaski, her vision burns brightly to this day.
One of the best parts of the Chorale is the relationship that exists between the older kids and the younger ones. The older ones actually help mentor the younger kids, and the younger ones are happy to have someone to look up to. It is not unusual for their relationships to last years after they have grown too old to be a part of the Chorale. Canna Ricketts, who has been the Chorale’s accompanist for many years, told me that “Even after all these years, they still get together.”
Last Christmas I took several of my family members to hear the Chorale perform at the Christmas Concert in Pulaski, and it was one of the highlights of our holiday season. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this becomes one of our ongoing holiday traditions because the Chorale is just that good.
For this year’s Christmas Concert interview, we did something a little different, and that was to ask the kids for their take on being a part of HCC, as well as participating in this year’s
Christmas Concert. Here are some of their thoughts:
Q: (asked of a girl in her 7th year of singing with HCC) “What do you like best about being a part of the Chorale?”
A. “We get to know more about music and how to do it, and get close to people from other schools.”
The members of the Chorale are age 8-18, and come from as far away as Priceville. It is not at all uncommon for members to sing with the group for a full ten years. For the Christmas Concert, some of the alumni of the Chorale are asked to come back and sing solos, and this year is no exception.
Q: (asked of a girl in her first year of singing with HCC) “What is your favorite song for the concert?”
A: “Angels We Have Heard On High.” She also is looking forward to singing “Aussie Jingle Bells.”
For the record, as I listened to them practice, I was amazed at the high quality of their version of the Christmas classic. The long chorus with the one word “Gloria” is not at all easy to do in one breath, but Mary has taught them breath support, and how to hang on with strength until the last note. This year there is another favorite with the young ones, entitled, “Kling Glöckchen Kling,” which is German for “Ring Bells Ring,” and there will be a hand bell performance as part of the vocal performance.
The theme of this year’s concert is “It’s Christmas Everywhere,” and the songs will be from all over the world and sung in part in several languages. “Kiyoshi Kono Yoru” is Japanese for “Silent Night.” There is an Aussie version of “Jingle Bells” whose lyrics reflect the fact that Christmas “down under” comes in the hottest part of their summer. Instead of “Dashing through the snow/in a one horse open sleigh,” they will be singing, “Dashing through the sand/ in the scorching summer heat…” This is another of their favorites. Other songs will be from Africa, Spain, and France, and they will also be singing “Feliz Navidad.”
You will have two chances to hear the Chorale during this holiday season. The first will be on Tuesday, December 6th at 7pm. The concert will be held at the Church of the Messiah Episcopal Church, located at 114 North Third Street in Pulaski, TN. The second on Monday, December 12th will also be at 7pm, and the performance will be at the Athens Church of God, 17835 Quinn Road in Athens. Admission is free, and there will be a love offering taken. Please join with the rest of the community in experiencing the fact that “It’s Christmas Everywhere.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner