Shared from the 2017-11-23 Savannah Morning News eEdition

Confidence builder

Savannah Children’s Choir gives performers more than music skills

Charity SUCCESS stories

This story is part of a series on Savannah area nonprofits. See more installments each Sunday in the Arts & Culture section through Dec. 24.

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JACOB DAVIS, 9, AND ZIAN PARRISH, 9, SING A CHRISTMAS CAROL DURING A REHEARSAL OF THE SAVANNAH CHILDREN’S CHOIR. (STEVE BISSON/SMN)

Esperanza Spalding won a 2013 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance with her fourth album, “Radio Music Society,” released in 2012. Maybe it was a good decision to invite the Savannah Children’s Choir to record “Black Gold” on the album.

“… It’s the Savannah Children’s Choir that lifts ‘Black Gold’ and gives it true anthemic power,” from a review of the album in JazzTimes magazine on June 28, 2012.

What was Roger Moss thinking when he co-founded the choir in 2006? He and a friend were thinking that children in grade schools had little opportunity to sing in a choir setting, said Moss, who had been aprofessional singer.

He wanted to give children that foundation to sing in an organized group and learn how to be part of a team, to learn to read music, to understand the meaning of music, and to learn choreography and move with the music, all based on their voice potential and not their financial status.

He also wanted them to learn a few life skills.

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MANDY MADSON HANDS OUT MUSIC SHEETS TO MEMBERS OF THE APPRENTICE CHOIR OF THE SAVANNAH CHILDREN’S CHOIR AT A REHEARSAL. (STEVE BISSON/SAVANNAH MORNING NEWS).

“When I was a growing up, every year before we started school we’d get the same lecture from Dad. ‘You are a Moss. You represent this family. You will never bring shame on this family,’” said Moss. “Our kids get a version of that.”

The goal of the choir’s board and mission statement is not only to improve the students’ ability to sing, but also to build great children, Moss said. “We wanted to unite Savannah’s children through the power of song. I wanted to bring a diverse group of children together.”

There is an academic requirement to maintain a B average for the children, from kindergarteners through eighth graders. They work on etiquette. There are audition boot camps.

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MEMBERS OF CHILDREN’S CHOIR’S OF THE SAVANNAH PREMIER CHOIR POSE FOR A GROUP PORTRAIT WITH CO-FOUNDER ROGER MOSS IN THE CENTER IN SEPTEMBER. (SCC PHOTO/STEPHEN B. MORTON)

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ROGER MOSS IS THE CO-FOUNDER OF THE SAVANNAH CHILDREN’S CHOIR. (STEVE BISSON/ SAVANNAH MORNING NEWS)

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STOVALL

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STACK

“When we watch our kids at their schools, you can pick out a Savannah Children’s Choir child,” Moss said. “There is something about them. That’s intentional. They are confident and comfortable in their own skin. Before a concert, we have our kids out in the lobby talking to people who come in.

“The bonds these children are able to make,” Moss said, are incredible. “We have kids from 32 different schools, public, private or home schools. A lot of them would never know each other if not for the Savannah Children’s Choir.”

Strong beginning

It started in 2006. “We did a one-week summer camp; 52 kids showed up,” Moss said. “Then we held auditions; 100 children showed up. We had our first choir with 32 children. We’ve been going gangbusters ever since.”

The Savannah Children’s Choir and the Coastal Youth Choirs in Bluffton, S.C., have grown to 120 members. “I have to give credit to our board. It’s a great board. When we first started the choir, we had one choir. As it grew in number, we split those choirs, more based on age. Over the years, it is now based on musical ability.”

Choirs, based on age and talent, are called Discovery, Apprentice, Preparatory (some regional traveling) and Premier (national and international travel and members must audition again). New is the Coastal Youth Choirs, funded by a grant from the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.

There is an “exceptional staff of conductors, one for each choir,” Moss said. “Our commitment to excellence extends to the conducting staff. We hire good people to conduct.”

Choirs rehearse one night a week at Savannah Arts Academy. As performance season picks up, they might add one Saturday a month.

The children are responsible for learning the music on their own.

“They do work on their own so they are prepared for rehearsals,” Moss said. “They have so many performances over the holidays. I’m very glad we have five different choirs because we get asked a lot [to perform] and it’s nice to not wear one of the choirs out!”

Confidence builder

Caleb Stack was among the first choir members in 2006. He was 12 years old, attending Calvary Day School. “I always liked singing in the choir from a young age. I liked the Bach and the Handel more than the kids around me,” he said.

After joining the Children’s Choir, he said he liked the friendships that he made.

“The strongest friendships are the ones made through hard work. If I’m working on a goal with someone, that’s how I bond with them. The idea of having a choir for every kid wanting to be there was appealing. As a young kid in my school choir, I was one of the 10 who loved it; the rest had to be there.”

Even though the first choir was booked often, he said it was a great experience.

“We performed a lot the first year because we had to get the name out there,” he said. “I got to learn some awesome music. The coolest thing for me when I was a kid, as a small kid, when we performed in these professional settings, I felt like I was being treated like a professional.

“We had long rehearsals, but every time we performed, I was being respected and regarded for the work I was putting into it. As a kid, that’s important. You put in the work and you get the benefits.”

He said he never lacked confidence when he was singing, noting that there is more than one way to have confidence.

The Children’s Choir “taught me confidence in a professional setting. How to carry yourself when you walk into a room. Look someone in the eye when speaking to them. How to behave in a manner to be respected. I had to walk in time with everyone else. Stand straight. No wiggling. Act like you belong there. That was the type of confidence I don’t think I would have gotten for years and years.”

At 22, he is now a choral music education major at Kennesaw State University. He initiated a hurricane relief benefit held at the school in mid-November, speaking with administrators and coordinating the event that ended with participation by the entire School of Music.

“… I saw an opportunity to participate in society in a positive way. I can liken Savannah Children’s Choir to that — an obligation to the community to use music for good.”

It’s also why he comes back in the summers as an intern helping during summer boot camp.

“I see the same ideals and the same visions that I saw when I joined. An organization around for a long time can lose sight of their vision. Not the Savannah Children’s Choir,” he said, noting that Moss values the first generation of the choir to teach the next generation.

“It’s a thriving expression of Roger’s original vision of a choir that could bring together all sorts of people.”

This past summer, he saw two students from different socioeconomic backgrounds singing together as they walked down the hall. “It was a very emotional moment for me. Neither of these kids would have known each other [if not for this program]. That’s why I come back every year. There are other summer opportunities. It is an organization that I trust.”

No room for timid

Timid, tiny Giuliana Stovall is her own description of herself at 10 years old when she auditioned to be in the Savannah Children’s Choir. She was in the fifth grade at Georgetown Elementary.

“I auditioned because my mom knew I loved to sing,” said the third-year civil engineering student at Georgia Tech. “I sang in the shower all the time and I loved to sing in the school choir. She wanted me to learn how to read music.

“When you are in the fifth grade in elementary school choir, you are not necessarily going to learn how to perform music, but you learn how to sing. Under Mr. Moss, I feel I learned a lot of making a show interesting and entertaining and something that the audience wants to see.”

Today, with a minor in music, she has translated that into her music technology class. Not all the students know how to play well together.

“It can be frustrating sometimes,” she said. “You never want to call someone out for doing something terrible or not cooperating. It’s also important they know what they are doing is not right. You have to guide them to the solution. ‘How do you think we can do this better?’”

The Children’s Choir gave her confidence in many ways. “I was a lot more shy when I was a tiny little fifth-grader,” she said. “I had confidence I could sing, but I was shy. Reading music is an entirely new language. If you can’t read it, you can’t be confident in it.”

They would sing “This Little Light of Mine,” her choir theme song for three years, she said. Moss “would always choose someone new to sing the solo. He would just point and you’d be the one singing it. That was the most nerve-wracking thing in the world, but it gave me a lot of confidence. I knew if he ever pointed at me, I would know what to do.

“Now I raise my hand. I have confidence. That all translates toward my group presentations. In the end, I was a section leader in my high school choir and my college choir because I took the initiative … I’m president of the chamber choir here now, if that tells you how music has touched me.

“If I hadn’t been in the Savannah Children’s Choir, I wouldn’t have recognized the beauty that music is. I wouldn’t have known to pursue it.”

Financial needs

“In the children’s choir world … when it comes to travel, it’s kind of reserved for children that can afford it. We are not that choir. From Day 1, if you audition and make it in our traveling choirs, it is regardless of your family income.”

In addition, the chaperones need to travel. “We are all about our kids’ safety, so we have to bring along chaperones,” Moss said.

“Our kids do pay a tuition, less than one-quarter of the budget. Our operation is totally dependent on the kindness of strangers. We’ve had some great supporters over the years. Every cent of donation is appreciated. If someone can only give $10, that is music.”

An example of the expense of running a choir is in the cost of sheet music. “We abide by all the copyright laws,” Moss said. “When we buy music, with 120 kids, we have to buy 120 pieces of music. That music now is averaging $2 per copy. Multiply that by a season of music, a minimum of 20 songs; it all adds up.”

The choir has some consistent patrons for financial support and this year they are starting an option for monthly pledges.

“A lot of times people go to the same well,” Moss said of fundraising. “What we are saying is we are Savannah’s choir. When we go to France, we are representing Savannah. Giving that $10 is just saying, ‘thank you for representing us.’”

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