The Fort Wayne Children’s Choir has been teaching music literacy, and other skills, for 44 years to Fort Wayne-area children.
“What started as [a single choir] with a handful of kids has grown to eight choirs with 315 kids,” Executive Artistic Director Jonathan Busarow said.
Musical literacy, rather than raw singing talent, is emphasized in the choir and the yearly auditions, which take place in May and June.
“During the audition, we’re going to try to assess how much music knowledge they have,” Managing Director Amber Foster said. “It’s not so much an audition to say if you’re good enough to get in, it’s an audition to say where is your skill set at now, how does that align with our current ensemble structure and where are we going to place you?”
One of the biggest challenges the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir seeks to overcome is the barrier of cost, Busarow said.
On average, participation in the FWCC costs $585 for the year, he said, adding they try to make it more accessible with 10-month payment plans and financial assistance. Busarow added 40 percent of current participants in the FWCC receive some kind of assistance.
“We like to make sure no kid is turned away because of money and we make sure we don’t let that sticker price…be anything that scares people away. We try to find answers to all those things,” he said.
The Fort Wayne Children’s Choir has eight choirs, divided mostly by age. The apprentice choir comprises mostly third-graders. Then there’s the lyric choir and the treble choir, the latter of which performs with the Fort Wayne Ballet in its annual “Nutcracker” performance. These groups meet once a week for about an hour and a half.
The concert choir is made up of mostly middle-schoolers, who get to participate in the Children’s Choir’s biggest performances including its Holiday Pops concert with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra.
“To sing with the Philharmonic on the Embassy stage and the fun that they’ve had doing those shows” is one of the top memories for choir alumni, Busarow said. “It’s a professional ensemble, and what our kids experience is that they too are professionals when they step on that stage.”
For high schoolers there’s the youth chorale, who are “typically kids who have come all the way through the program, so though they only have one rehearsal a week their music reading skills are top-notch and they can sing all sorts of difficult music,” Busarow said.
Within the overall youth chorale is also the chamber singers, consisting of a “mobile” eight to 12 children who perform at community functions and rehearse once a week, and the boy choir, which meets once a month.
“We want to foster those boys, their singing abilities. We want to help them as their voices start to change, but we also want to give them a nice little social opportunity,” Busarow said.
There is also the Whitley Community Children’s Choir based in Columbia City, that while performing at other Fort Wayne Children’s Choir shows also perform at community events in Whitley County.
At the end of July the FWCC hosts a camp for students, followed by their first concert at the Foellinger outdoor theater.
Their next concert is their Harvest Concert, which takes place 4-6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, at the IPFW Rhinehart Music Center. Tickets are $8-$10 and are available through the IPFW ticket office or online at ipfw.edu/tickets. Alumni are invited to attend at no charge.
“The fall concert is really, beyond Choralfest … the community’s first chance to see all of our ensembles en masse together after they’ve had some intense time together,” Foster said of the concert.
This year’s theme is color, with the music and projections to fit.
“People will really have a chance to connect with what they are hearing,” Busarow said. “What does this color evoke? That’s the element that we’re going to be exploring in the fall.”
The culmination of the year comes the first Sunday in May, falling on May 6 in 2018.
“We have this concert that’s really sort of ‘look what we’ve done in the course of this year’ … you get to really see their progress from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” Busarow said.
Throughout the year and their time in the choirs, the students not only progress in their singing talent, but in other traits as well – Busarow listed leadership skills, teamwork and working collaboratively toward a common goal as a few.
“One thing that I’ve witnessed is the confidence because not many kids have the opportunity to perform,” Foster said.
“It’s great to watch these kids grow musically and otherwise,” Busarow said.