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The Georgia Children's Chorus: 10 Years Later & Still Singing Strong
By Blair Rivkin
Nov/Dec 2008

Georgia Children's Chorus
"It is all about the children."

Carol Reeves is emphatic with her statement, and Sharon McKillip nods her head in agreement.

10 years ago, the Georgia Children's Chorus (GCC) was featured in Athens Parent Magazine as a newly born organization, attempting to bring musical opportunities to the children of Athens and well beyond. The director at the time, Elizabeth Kimble, presented the GCC as the perfect marriage of nourishing singing talents and providing an unwavering forum for education and experience for kids between the ages of eight and 18.

Though the basic philosophies of the GCC have not changed, the Chorus has met several achievements over the years and has become a musical mainstay in the area. 

"Everyone involved with us is so committed to it-the Board, the parents and especially, the kids." She and McKillip are grateful for the Chorus' continued existence following Kimble's resignation in 2002, owed primarily to the Board's dedication. "Their determination sustained the GCC during the transition of three wonderful interim directors from 2002-2004. Their tireless effort continues to support the GCC staff and choristers in every way possible."

Reeves became the new director in January of 2004 after the two-year transitional period. "We had 29 singers," she recalls. "But every year since, the chorus has grown. We send out emails to over 200 music teachers in the surrounding counties to drum up interest." Now, as they surpass their own 10th anniversary, Reeves and McKillip, the chorus administrator, have seen their numbers surge to 90-plus in enrollments. The two of them smile when describing their roles: "With us and our accompanist, Erica McClellan, who is just wonderful, we're like a three-legged stool. We all depend on each other."

After the GCC's formation, one of the first priorities became financial support to children who needed it. Reeves and McKillip are proud to say that this goal has been met: "It is the goal of the GCC to make the Chorus accessible to every child in Northeast Georgia, regardless of race or economic status." They now offer tuition assistance to those young singers who need it, due largely to sponsor donations and several federal grants that they have received over the years.

Financial aid is not the only gift the GCC has been fortunate enough to receive. The Chorus' home is the Hugh Hodgson School of Music (HHSOM) on the UGA campus. "They have provided us a home that includes services, rehearsal rooms, performance facilities and office space."  Aside from the school's faculty and staff support, Reeves and McKillip express thanks to the staff of the neighboring Performing Arts Center (PAC), where their annual Spring and Holiday performances are held. The PAC's Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall also grants a tremendous performance venue that gives the choristers a priceless opportunity to showcase their talents in a world-class space.

"We always do what's in the best interest of the children," Reeves says. "We focus on their needs when we plan our schedules and repertoires." She and McKillip say that while giving children a musical education, as well as a "lifelong love of music" is a priority, they have been blessed to stumble upon opportunities outside of song. "Some of our songs include different languages, and we are so grateful to UGA's Language departments. " She says that, when the choristers were learning songs in languages such as Latin, Hebrew, French, Swahili and others, professors or students who spoke these languages were more than happy to help the children and also taught them cultural aspects of their homelands as an added bonus. "The kids love it. We really are building a community with them," Reeves beams. "With those new insights, a song becomes more than just the music. When they have those kinds of connections with people, it brings the music to life for them." McKillip continues, saying that many of their current and past research assistants were once in the Chorus themselves: "That loyalty and love (of music) will be there for the rest of their lives. That is one thing that we hope to always give to the children."

Though the GCC has already experienced major accomplishments in their first 10 years, they have tremendous plans for the future. Reeves and McKillip say that they would like to further increase their numbers, and perhaps begin a "training choir" for singers who are younger than their official beginner's age of 8 years old. "We'd also like to build up our older chorus," both women point out. "We would like to make them even stronger."

With their annual Holiday Concert on the horizon, the GCC will once again provide Athens and the surrounding areas with a spectacular showcase of young singing talent. The journey ahead promises to be a road graced by continued support and an unfailing dedication to the children who lift their voices high for all to hear. "It truly is an uplifting thing to observe," McKillip smiles warmly. "To see the joy, and to know that you're a part of that."

Blair Rivkin is the Managing Editor of Athena and Athens Parent Magazine. She lives in Athens with her husband, Evgeny, and their three dogs, Annabel, Arta and Percy.


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