Young voices unite in choir

Posted: Thursday, June 06, 2002

Tuesday afternoon, when most Kenai Peninsula elementary school-age children are at the baseball or soccer fields, 15 kids ranging from first to sixth grade were lying on the floor at Peninsula Christian Center with books on their stomachs watching them rise and fall as they took deep breaths in and out.

Erin Southwick, the director of the new Bel Canto Kids Community Choir, was teaching her young recruits proper breathing techniques.

"I told them when you breathe wrong you aren't going to be able to sing as well," she said.

And singing is what these children love to do best.

"I really like singing. That is why I want to do this," said 6-year-old Lily Arnette of Nikiski.

Lily's mother, Jackie, said her daughter has always loved to sing at family gatherings.

"If they keep this choir going, she is going to be in it," Jackie said. "I think music is important for kids. I want her to be a part of it."

Kelli Stroh of Soldotna said her daughter Courtney, also 6, always has sung around the house, in the car and for the choir at their church.

"I've always been interested in some sort of children's choir," she said. "I hope it keeps going and more kids join. Performing, singing -- this is the kind of thing she is pretty committed to."

Courtney said she directs her 2-year-old sister, Keira, in productions of the "The Sound of Music." When asked what she thought about the new choir, her simple response was "I like it."

"I just know that children love to sing," said Renee Duncan, the organizing energy responsible for recruiting Southwick to help form the choir.

Southwick said she wanted something a little different from her other role as the music teacher at Soldotna Elementary School and agreed to direct the choir without hesitation.

"There are a lot of talented kids on the peninsula. I love music, and I love to share my love of music with children," she said.

"When I am in rehearsal, I like them to take home a piece of why they are singing, what it is that makes them like to sing. I want to take hold of the kids when they are young because then they have more of an appreciation for it when they are older."

Duncan, who made her public singing debut at age 4, agreed.

"What you learn at this point in life sticks with you. It is an ambivalent thing to try and explain what each child would get out this, but every child has a song inside of them just dying to get out."

Not only are the children benefiting from the new choir, but it also is filling a void in the community. School budget cuts are restricting schools from replacing teachers in specialized areas such as music, and children are therefore not exposed to music as much as some might like.

"Parents especially love hearing children sing. Children singing is almost a thread that connects this whole community," Duncan said.

Kelli Stroh also mentioned the impact a children's choir can have on a community.

"Hearing children's voices is so uplifting. It brings smiles to people's faces," she said.

Peninsula residents can see the Bel Canto Kids in their debut performance at the God and Country Rally scheduled for 6 p.m. June 30 in the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School.

Interested children can still join the group by coming to either today's 4 p.m. practice at Peninsula Christian Center at 161 Farnsworth in Soldotna or Tuesday's rehearsal at the same time and location.

"This is an opportunity you don't want to pass up. I have had nothing but positive reinforcement. I was bowled over by their singing. The children that are involved in it are very excited. Come and check it out for yourself," Southwick said.

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