The lilting sound of an angel chorus filtered through Westminster Congregational Church on a recent Wednesday evening. By following the echoes up staircases and down hallways a visitor opened a door to discover the beautiful music came from a group of small children. The Spokane Area Children’s Chorus Preparatory Choir was hard at work rehearsing for a spate of holiday concerts.
Since 1987, SACC, and its six choirs, has offered budding vocalists ages 7 to 18, professional caliber musical instruction and given them a place to shine. Artistic director Kristina Ploeger said, “Our goal is to teach (students) the skills they need to enable them to enjoy lifelong music.”
When asked how parents can know if SACC is right for their child, Ploeger laughed and said, “Any 7-year-old that’s walking around singing all the time is a perfect fit!”
That was certainly the case for Ellie Parish, 7. “When she was two, we’d take her to the swings at Manito and she’d belt out tunes from Annie,” said her dad, Linn Parish. “As soon as she was old enough to try out, we took her to SACC.”
During rehearsal, Ellie was a picture of perfect concentration as the Prep choir sang “The Holly and the Ivy.” “She loves it,” said Parish.
As does 15-year-old Rixana Jopson. The West Valley High School student is enjoying her fifth season with SACC. “It’s a great organization,” she said. “You really become a family.”
SACC encompasses students from approximately 45 school environments. Ploeger said, “We’ve had home-school kids and kids from Davenport, Reardan, Sandpoint and Post Falls.”
A shared love of singing brings them together each week. “Kids who love to sing know they’re safe here,” said Ploeger. “This is a bubble of happiness for them.”
But it’s also hard work. Even the youngest members are introduced to sight reading and basic music theory principles. Being part of SACC requires commitment and sacrifice, much like participating on a sports team. Students learn that each individual is important to the success of the choir. Ploeger said the values of artistry, respect and commitment apply to everything in life – not just music.
Sue Connelly agreed. Her daughter Liz, 17, has been a member since second grade. “She’s learned so many lessons like perseverance and hard work lead to wonderful things,” Connelly said. “Lessons like being prepared and working with a group transfer to other parts of life.”
Additionally, Connelly said the tuition is “a bargain. These kids get college level voice instruction.”
They also have the opportunity to perform with regional and local artists such as the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and Chorale and the Northwest Bach Festival. And every other year, the choirs tour internationally, performing in countries such as Scotland and Argentina.
While many arts organizations struggle during difficult economic times, Ploeger said SACC, funded by tuition and donations, is doing well. Several years ago, the board established a scholarship fund to ensure as many children as possible would be able to participate, and as yet they haven’t had to turn down any scholarship requests.
With SACC entering its 25th season this summer, Ploeger said the key to the success and longevity of the organization is the quality of its instructors. “We have the best voice teachers in Spokane.”
And she believes the best teachers attract a higher caliber of students.
As Ploeger spoke, the elementary choir, directed by Darnelle Preston, began a series of vocal warm-ups. The group included boys wearing basketball shorts and a girl sporting a Santa hat. Under Preston’s vigilant eye, the children sat straight, shoulders back and soon the sweet strains of the “Winter Carol” poured from their mouths.
That diligence and commitment to excellence has parents like Lerria Schuh singing SACC’s praises. Schuh’s daughters, Cecilia, 9, and Kegley, 13, enjoy being part of the organization. “Kegley comes out with the biggest smile on her face. It’s the happiest day of her week,” Schuh said.
She hopes that more families will discover Spokane Area Children’s Chorus. Schuh said, “It feels like a hidden jewel of a secret in Spokane.”