In harmony with the world

Young voices bring unexpected music from distant places


February 20, 2005|By Kim Hart | Kim Hart,SUN STAFF

When the teenage members of the Village Harmony World Music Youth Choir open their mouths, what comes out is rarely typical: bright, rich melodies from South Africa; dark, dissonant sounds from Georgia; catchy, offbeat Balkan rhythms.

The 23 members of the Marshfield, Vt.-based group aim to create music from around the world that sounds as if it were being performed in its native country. By immersing themselves in the language and culture of each region, they attempt to capture musical nuances from inflection to beat.

"There's a rawness to the music that most high school choirs and bands don't have," said Rosalie Elkinton, 16, of Amherst, Mass., who has toured with Village Harmony for two years. "People are blown away by our concerts because it's something they've never heard before."

Mastering the music requires a great deal of time. The singers, who will perform Friday in Towson, often visit South Africa or Bulgaria to train with directors and performers. Every fall, the group spends several intense weekends learning the lyrics, rhythms and dances of different cultures. Some choir members commute to Vermont from New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, often driving five or six hours. Their practice culminates in an annual two-week winter tour that takes them through New England and along the Atlantic seaboard.

"These kids are looking to explore what they can do by playing with their voices, not just learning and repeating the songs," said co-director Patty Cuyler. "It's not like a bunch of Americans singing a genre, but really trying to approximate the native sound."

It may seem odd that teen-agers, often consumed by popular music, would be attracted to the unfamiliar styles of distant countries. But these young singers jump at the chance to be different.

"Kids are very drawn to this type of music because of the vocal freedom that it gives them," said Larry Gordon, who founded the group 16 years ago.

Besides, the choir is just plain fun.

"It's a very tight-knit group," said Rachel Rudi, 16, who grew up listening to Village Harmony concerts. "You meet different people every time. Some of my best friends are from Massachusetts and New Jersey - from all over - because of it."

Others view the choir as an extended cultural lesson: a way to travel and broaden their interests in music and languages. For example, during the tour, the choir members stay with local residents. And for 18-year-old Ben Sachs-Hamilton, the best part of traveling and singing may be catching "a glimpse into a different culture."

"I think our best concerts are when we really get the switch between styles and you can hear the distinction between the language and the culture the songs come from," said Sachs-Hamilton of Burlington, Vt. "It really comes through in the lyrics."


What: Village Harmony Youth World Music Choir

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Woodbrook Baptist Church, 25 Stevenson Lane, Towson

Cost: $10, $20 for families

Information: 410-451-1791 or www. concerts/vhwintertour.html

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