The Georgia Children's Chorus: 10 Years Later & Still
"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
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.