Students light up the stage at the Winspear Centre

Imagine as a young child what it would be like to stand on stage at the world-renowned Winspear Centre and sing your heart out. Imagine how incredibly proud your parents would be. That was the experience of 18 Red Deer Public School students last month as they joined with others from across the province via the Alberta Children’s Choir.

The residency takes place annually and this year singers from Annie L. Gaetz Elementary, Westpark Middle School and Eastview Middle School took part in the event, which ran Jan. 25-28th in Edmonton. The students were coached by Ruth E. Dwyer, a conductor from the United States.

“They sang Thursday evening, all day Friday, most of Saturday and then they had a performance Sunday afternoon at the Winspear Centre,” said Moira Milne, music specialist at Annie L. Gaetz Elementary School. “Any choir gives you an opportunity to work together as a team - there is an end result. It goes beyond just the skills of vocal production, memorization and learning languages to the fact that you need to be able to watch all of the non-verbal cues from a conductor you don’t know.”

She added the repertoire the students sing during the Alberta Children’s Choir residency is significantly more difficult than what they are used to in their class.

“At our schools, we are happy if we learn two parts, and some of the music they were working on that weekend was five parts,” said Milne. “That is due in part to the fact that the conductor had 20 hours to work with the choir, and we normally have about 20 minutes in our classroom setting.”

When the students return, Milne said they bring their excitement back to their classmates.

“They are over the moon,” she said. “When they came back, the first time we had a rehearsal for our school choir, I had them get up and tell the other kids what was so great about their experience. They talked about different vocal warm ups, they learned a song in the South African language Zulu, and they insisted on singing the whole song on the spot to us.”

She added the feedback she receives from the parents is also positive.

“I often have parents who cry every year. They are so thankful that their children have this opportunity and their kids love every minute of it,” she said, adding the students begin working on the music in December and have to practice at home until the residency. “It’s a huge commitment. It’s awesome to watch these 10-year-olds come back to my choir rehearsal as experts.”