Recalling 25 years of high notes

Reunion: Children's Chorus of Maryland alumni celebrating anniversary.

May 05, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

In 25 years, the Children's Chorus of Maryland has grown from six kids who performed in a Baltimore County living room to a group of 115 with concert dates at symphony halls and music festivals.

Tomorrow, the choir will take the stage at Goucher College, and among the performers will be members from the early days. More than 30 alumni, some from as far away as California, are appearing in the 25th anniversary concert to sing the songs of their childhood and celebrate the importance of music in their lives.

And like any reunion, chorus members will catch up with old friends, reminisce about audition jitters and thank the woman who brought them together.

A lasting impact was part of founder Betty Bertaux's goal in 1976. A music teacher in Baltimore County schools for nearly 10 years, she wanted to offer advanced training to local youth and make sure her son received a high-quality music education.

"Music enriches [chil- dren's] lives," says Bertaux, who returned to serve as full-time artistic director in 1999 after a 12-year absence. "The children are learning commitment, self discipline, pursuit of a goal, to keep working until they get it right. They get a sense of success after effort. "

Today, the chorus has five instructors and rehearsal space at the Waldorf School of Baltimore, a private institution in North Baltimore. The chorus has performed in Carnegie Hall and the White House.

The chorus "has a great tradition of excellence, a tradition of success," says Tom Hall, music director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and a children's chorus advisory board member. "They rise to that level when they perform with us."

"It was the most wonderful experience, all succeeding together, reading off [Bertaux's] hands and singing beautiful harmony," remembers Anya Grundmann, 33, of Washington.

Grundmann, who grew up in Ten Hills, now draws on her music education as an editor for National Public Radio's classical music program "Performance Today."

It wasn't just about learning the songs, she says. Students learn about music theory, rhythm, harmony and other concepts through the Kodaly method, a system named for a Hungarian composer in which the leader uses hand signals to direct the group. They can be led to sing pitches on any scale based on a starting note. Exercises and musical games are an important part of the curriculum.

As Grundmann returns to Baltimore this weekend she remembers the fun she had as a chorus member: eating the muffins her character stole from a cart in the Baltimore Opera's "La Boheme;" wearing a shimmery blue costume in the Annapolis Opera's "The Magic Flute;" and traveling to Canada for a choral festival.

Prospective students, usually between ages 6 and 9, have to audition for the chorus to begin the twice-weekly program of classroom training and singing. Tuition ranges from $500 to $896 per year, plus students need uniforms, transportation, music and supplies.

Lea and David Saslav joined the chorus when they were growing up in Mount Washington. Their father was the concertmaster for the Baltimore Symphony and their mother was a concert pianist.

"I learned about the magic of preparing for a concert, the rehearsals that go into the process, the joy of performing and the knowledge of doing a job well done," says Lea, a New York writer who plays piano and sings in a chorus.

David, a senior product manager for a San Francisco computer company, said he recently started a lunchtime singing group at his office. Music also helped him meet his wife - they met while serving on the board of the California Bach Society in Menlo Park.

In the future the children's chorus wants to expand efforts to attract and provide scholarships for disadvantaged students, says Ramona Galey, executive director.

With these efforts, more children may build memories like Nancy Parsons, 37, of Flourtown, Pa.

"It was just the best experience of my childhood," she says. "I took away real life skills, things like generosity, teamwork ... and discipline."

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