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Out of Africa, for the world

April 28, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN-Miranda Brown said she attended a Friday night performance of the African Children's Choir at St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church to see her future.

The Hagerstown resident held her two young daughters and fought back tears as the choir's 21 members took the stage in front of the church.

"I came out because I want to get a feel on what God wants me to do later on in life ... To work with kids in Africa," Brown said. "This is a wonderful opportunity."

Brown joined about 375 other people to watch the choir perform African songs and dances in traditional costumes. The children were between the ages of 10 and 12.

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Vic Thiessen, administrator of the African Children's Choir, said some of the choir members are orphans from Uganda and war-torn Rwanda.

"Many have seen their parents butchered," he said.

The choir holds several shows across the United States, Thiessen said. Its next stop is Sunday in Temple, Pa.

Thiessen said children are selected to participate in the choir each year from several African countries.

The children typically come from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda and Uganda, according to information provided by the African Children's Choir.

"These kids are the poorest of the poor," Thiessen said.

Once the choir is chosen, its members receive music and dance training at a school in Kampala, Uganda, for about three months before coming to the United States to perform, Thiessen said. The children are tutored by certified teachers along the way.

Through much of the concert, people in the audience clapped their hands to the music and offered thunderous applause after each number.

Michelle Rafter of Williamsport said before the concert began that she brought her two daughters so they could get exposure to another culture.

"It will give them a chance to experience music from other parts of the world right here (in Hagerstown)," she said.

Negotiations began several months ago to bring the choir to St. Ann's, said Pete Hommel, the church's director of music.

"They're a phenomenal group," he said. "They're recognized around the world."

As part of the program, Hommel said host families in cities where the choir performs provide meals and lodging for the children.

"They're brought to the U.S. to get a better life and education," he said.

Performances by the African Children's Choir are free and open to the public.

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