ACT choir teaches tone and values

August 26, 2011|By LAURA BELL | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Rachel Kern collaborated with Authentic Community Theatre and Boys & Girls Club to organize a youth choir for summer campers with Boys & Girls Club on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown.
Photo courtesy of Donna Kross

For some Boys & Girls Club of Washington County campers this summer, singing in a summer choir became more than just a group of teens performing show tunes on TV.

Authentic Community Theatre (ACT) partnered with the Boys & Girls Club on Pennsylvania Avenue, where some of the summer campers were part of a new youth choir of 22 children aged 6 to 9.

The idea for the Youth Choir came from Rachel Kern's love of music and desire to bring music as a release to local children.

"I've always wanted to do it, because I do enjoy kids, and singing is a huge part of my life," Kern said.

Kern explained that she wanted to give the children the ability to express themselves through music.

"Whenever I fell in line with ACT and doing work with them, it just kind of fell into place," Kern said.

The choir began when Kern, director of development for ACT, proposed the idea to ACT's Board of Directors at the suggestion of JenniLynn Hughes, ACT's Board of Directors vice president, Hughes said.

Hughes said she also suggested contacting the Boys & Girls Club to begin a new partnership between the two organizations.

After a few more phone calls, ACT's Youth Choir with the Boys & Girls Club on Pennsylvania Avenue took root.

Kern also had a few goals for the new choir that centered around ACT's vision for positive social change.

"Recently, we've really been focusing on bullying and a message of respect," she said.

The music the children learned during the summer helped them learn to sing and to understand ACT's messages.

"The music that we selected for the kids kind of all revolved around respecting each other, learning how to rely on your friends, believing in yourself," Kern said.

Kern said they also talked about the songs with the children to help them better appreciate the message.

Though some kids originally resisted the summer choir, Kern said she thought they learned the positive messages she aimed to teach them.

"When we first started, we definitely had some resistance from some of the children," she said, noting many had a misconception about what a choir was. "By the end of it some of those kids that were most outspoken at the beginning about not wanting to be there were some of the loudest ones singing in the concert."

Kern said that the four songs the kids sang were all up-beat songs with good messages chosen by Kern, Emily Sanders and Amy McCullough, who both helped run the choir.

Kern, who had some previous experience in college teaching music to children in foreign schools abroad while she was in concert choir, found this to be a new experience. She said it "exceeded my expectations."

The kids were even able to learn some of the basics of music through different warm-ups, Kern said.

"They learned what solfege was, which is the do-re-mi scale, and they learned how to sing the scale," Kern said.

The rhythm exercises were one of their favorite things to do, she said.

The choir was an opportunity for the children to learn about different types of music and to gain an appreciation for music styles in general.

"Their favorite song, by far was 'Lean on Me' (by Bill Withers)," Kern said.

ACT is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 2005 by a group of people lead by Tony Goode, Warwick Dobson and Niki Perini, Hughes said.

The organization puts on several programs including the Summer Institute for the Arts (SIFTA), a program that allows children to put together plays based off of a selected piece of literature, Hughes said.

SIFTA allows them to learn different artistic skills, Hughes explained.

"It brings together community artists" to help teach the children, Kern said of SIFTA.

ACT also gives some scholarships for underprivileged children to participate in SIFTA.

Reminiscence Theatre is a program being re-booted by ACT this year after a break of several years. It involves a group of people who learn about the lives of elderly people in different locations. They then create a short play that celebrates the lives of the people they met and perform it for them, Hughes said.

 "This year we are actually using a senior's group at First Christian Church," Hughes said.

Hughes explained that ACT would like to repeat the program up to four times during this coming year, working with different senior's groups each time.

ACT also does a program called Storytelling in the Parks, in which a team creates a play based on a selected book then performs it in the parks around Washington County, Hughes said.

Hughes said as an organization, ACT puts together programs with the four common goals of offering education opportunities for students to learn about the arts, providing arts programs to the underprivileged segments in the community, encouraging growth in local artists and providing opportunities for professional artists, and developing "original work to address social issues."

Kern explained that they encourage people in the community to approach ACT with ideas and take advantage of its programs.

"We also hope that the community uses us," she said.

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