Walk by the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Urbana on a Saturday morning October through April and you may hear a chorus of young voices. That would be the weekly rehearsal of the Champaign County Youth Choir, about to start its 26th year.
Since organized by Jan Ebert and Ed Hardin, the number of singers, 3rd through 8th graders, has grown, last year’s reaching about 50 voices.
“There are no tryouts, no competition,” said Hardin, still with the group as coordinator and member of the board of directors.
“The only qualification we have is that they enjoy vocal music,” he added.
“We’ll take everyone, as long as they want to be there,” said Jane Martin, who has accompanied the group on piano from the start.
“Parents are looking for wholesome activities for their kids to participate in,” Martin said. “All the kids are there because they want to be there. It’s a sacrifice for all the families to get up and get moving early Saturday mornings (rehearsals are 9-10:30 a.m.), but they love music.”
Martin has spent the last eight years of her teaching career teaching music to Urbana elementary students. She has taught at Triad and Tipp City schools and has been organist/pianist for First Presbyterian Church, Urbana, over 20 years.
Directed by Allen Wilbur the first 16 years, the choir now is directed by Kristen Williams, Graham Elementary music teacher and Church of the Nazarene, Urbana, music director.
All Champaign County students in grades 3 through 8, including home-schooled students, are welcome to the first Saturday practice, 9 a.m. Oct. 6 at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, 230 Scioto St.
“If they love singing, they will be happy here,” Martin said.
“Parents are welcome to stay for the practices,” Hardin added.
He said all school music teachers should have registration forms, and students should take completed forms to the first practice. The registration forms also will be available at the church during the practice session for students to complete.
There is a yearly fee of $20 for a choir shirt, but scholarships are available for those who can’t afford the fee.
“It’s not affordable for everyone,” Martin said. “A good number have been on scholarships.”
Families interested in scholarships can call Martin, 937-869-2424, or Williams, 937-215-1406.
Music of various genres
“We try to encourage music of lots of different genres,” Martin said, adding the repertoire has included patriotic, classical, folk, show tunes, seasonal and popular.
Hardin said the choir performs two main shows a year: Christmas and spring concerts. The choir also performs at about six other venues, including nursing homes and office parties. He said performances are during the day and on weekends as much as possible. Performances are free of charge, although donations are welcome.
Anyone wishing to schedule a performance can call Martin or Williams.
Last year’s season ended with a 25th anniversary One Voice spring concert at Graham Middle School attended by about 200 people.
“That place was packed with people. It was fantastic,” Hardin said. “We got very positive feedback from people.”
Guest conductor was Dave Weimer, a retired Springfield High School choir director who accompanies choirs at two churches and at school events.
With the aid of school music teachers, the young vocalists split into groups to learn a new song, then gathered to perform it in “One Voice.”
Hardin and Martin said the youth choir is much more than youngsters gathering to learn songs and perform before audiences.
“We try to help the kids build confidence,” Martin said. “It’s great to see the friendships that are forged. When 8th graders are in their last year, it’s always kind of sad. Quite a few stay in it from 3rd through 8th grade.”
“It’s noncompetitive, helps build self-esteem and helps the kids learn to work with others,” Hardin said.
They both expressed gratitude to those who have served on the board and those who have supported the choir through the years.
Besides Hardin, Martin and Williams, board members include Sonia Haines, Diane Kremer and Lisa Smith.
Hardin especially recognized former board member Sally Johnson for her support of the choir.
Businesses, families and individuals also have supported the choir through the years.
“We’re so thankful for the community’s support,” Martin said. “We wouldn’t be able to still be here without that,” she said, adding that the school systems and area music teachers also are supportive.
For more information, visit the Champaign County Youth Choir’s Facebook page.
Kathy Fox can be reached at 937-652-1331.