The Heritage Children’s Chorale of the South, a professional children’s chorus made up of young people ranging in age from eight to eighteen, proudly announces open auditions for the 2015-2016 season. Now entering its 27th season, the Chorale was established in Pulaski in 1988, by Mary Stephenson, who continues today as the director. In 1997, an additional chapter was established in Alabama.
I had an absolutely delightful conversation with Mary, and if I had kids in my home who were 8-18, and who wanted to sing, I would definitely “beat feet” to give them the chance to train with her. She legitimately carries the title, “Children’s Voice Specialist,” and I have no doubt that she would have the ability to draw out the singing gifting of any child. Mary has an extensive background in music, as does Canna Ricketts, the Chorale’s accompanist. Mary studied voice under Dr. Hugh Ross, as well as other vocal coaches. She has done everything from opera to jamming with James Taylor and John Sebastian, but her passion is kids. She has been the director of music at First United Methodist Church in Athens for 21 years.
Clearly, her work has paid off, and the Heritage Children’s Chorale of the South is one of our best kept local secrets. However, if Athens Now has anything to do with it, the days of being a local “secret treasure” will soon be over. Over the years, the Chorale has had the opportunity to be a part of several tours, which have included Disney World, New York City, Chattanooga, Memphis, Gatlinburg, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC, Graceland, St. Louis, and Myrtle Beach. The Tennessee chapter appeared in Nashville at Opryland at Christmastime with Amy Grant and Vince Gill. They have sung in connection with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, the Shoals Symphony, and the Nashville Symphony. They have also received invitations to sing in Spain, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Great Britain. Each year, the Chorale performs five times locally here in the Tennessee Valley, so you don’t have to go to the Czech Republic to hear them live.
Mary teaches the kids that their whole body is “an instrument you carry with you,” and I share her belief that being able to sing decently is an extremely important skill for all children. With as many choices for activities for kids these days, music lessons and voice lessons are often being neglected. With each practice being only 90 minutes, once a week, it is perfectly possible to pursue other interests without kids getting burned out. What is boggling to my mind is that the fee per year to be a part of the Chorale is only $150.00. To get vocal training and experience of this quality from a versatile, seasoned professional for such a low price is just flat “crazy good.
Over the years, some of Mary’s “kids” stayed with her and the Chorale for 10 years, and the friendships made by the members last longer. She has this to say about what participants can expect to experience: “Children in the choir receive voice lessons each week, are provided performance opportunities to share their talent, experience the chance to work with various recording artists and professionals, participate in tour engagements, and make lasting friendships.”
Mary told me that on performance night, the sight of the kids in their red satin performance apparel is indescribable. It is also important for parents of children interested in becoming a part of the Chorale to understand that the audition process is very low key and not at all stressful. Applicants do not need to have a specific piece of music prepared ahead of time, and I have full confidence that Mary is able to “hear” the singing voice of a child that may be hiding under a lack of confidence or experience. I asked her if I could ever come and attend a rehearsal after the audition process is completed, and the kids have “settled in.” She told me, “Absolutely,” and I am greatly looking forward to it. Perhaps I’ll be blessed to hear one of your children sing their heart out with the rest of the members of the Heritage Children’s Chorale of the South. I certainly hope so!
The Alabama Chapter rehearses each Monday in Athens, AL at First United Methodist Church, from 4:30-6:00. The Tennessee Chapter rehearses each Tuesday in Pulaski, TN at First Presbyterian Church from 4:30-6:00. Rehearsals for both chapters run from September through June. Open auditions will be held in Pulaski on Tuesday, September 8th, at 4:30 PM at First Presbyterian Church, located at 202 South Second Street. Alabama auditions will be held on Monday, September 14th at 4:30 PM at First United Methodist Church located at 208 West Hobbs Street. The audition is very child friendly, and no prepared selection is required. All children who love to sing are encouraged to audition. For more information please contact Mary Stephenson at 256-874-5572. There is a website available for more detailed information www.hccofthesouth.org. The Heritage Children’s Chorale is a non-profit organization funded in part by First National Bank of Pulaski, as well as private individuals, and donations are gladly accepted.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner