Depending on your past experience, the phrase “children's choir” might cause an involuntary cringe. Little kids are cute, but you can only take so much off-tune singing before the cuteness wanes.
The award-winning Phoenix Children's Chorus promises—and delivers—a completely different experience. According to Artistic Director Ron Carpenter, who also teaches choir full-time at Dobson High School, audience members regularly tell him how surprised they are.
“There are about 100 students who sing in [our youngest] choir and they always steal the show because they're cute. But also, because people are astounded because those kids can stand up there straight, without fidgeting, and sing with good vocal technique,” he says.
And the musicianship only improves from there. While the youngest members begin in second grade, the 350-singer chorus membership extends through high school seniors. Some members may stay with the organization for 10 years.
As kids grow in age and skill, the choir offers more advanced groups, from the younger Prep and Cadet choirs to the high-school Bravo and Encore. PCC also boasts a larger Concert choir that tours the world, and the a cappella Dolce for smaller venues.
While PCC's groups perform at a high level, and members take ongoing music education classes, musicianship remains a secondary goal.
“Chorale music is just the vehicle we use to help young people become more aesthetically literate,” Carpenter explains. “We feel strongly that aesthetically literate people have the ability to enjoy life more. And that what the students are learning when they're with us is not just how to be great musicians, but how to work together to accomplish a goal with a diverse group. ... That's an important part of who we are.”
This value of working together really becomes important as the older groups travel the world and meet kids their own age in other countries, Carpenter says. That viewpoint informs the theme of PCC's spring concert series, “The World is Ours,” which it will perform at Carnegie Hall on June 16.
First, though, comes the chorus' Dec. 3 Christmas concert, “Joy to the World,” which opens with the combined high school choirs—120-strong—singing a version of the titular song by master chorale arranger Mack Wilberg.
The rest of the concert promises not to disappoint as well.
“It will be a huge mix ... some traditional, some contemporary, some Hanukkah tunes, just a lot things,” Carpenter says. You will hear songs in French, Spanish, Hebrew, and “we have this amazing arrangement of 'The First Noel.'”
To compliment the choir, Carpenter says, “the Encore string quartet will be performing with us. In addition, we have harp, flute, bass, drums ... it will be quite a show.” Overall, he concludes, “a great way to start off the holiday season.”
If your child in 2nd to 11th grade gets inspired and wants to join Phoenix Children's Chorus, new member auditions take place Dec. 6 at ASU Polytechnic Campus. And lack of experience won't be a problem.
“We have a place in our organization for every young person who can match pitch and wants to sing,” Carpenter says. And the more the merrier.
“Our tag line is 'transforming lives through music.' People who come to our concerts would say the kids’ lives are being transformed, and also the folks who sit in the audience.”