Local children’s music group travels the nation and the world

Everyone knows the beauty of children’s voices raised in song. But something deeper happens when these same children raise their voices to speak.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that music affects the way they think,” said Liz Bellmer, whose three children — Grace, Lee and Abbi — participate in the Augusta Children’s Chorale. “I think that people who play music think differently.”
Her daughter, Grace, is a well-spoken young woman. Polite. Articulate. Confident. She’s also well-traveled. State capitals. The nation’s capital. Prague, in the former Czech Republic. This disciplined 14-year-old is going places, and she credits the music group with opening the necessary doors.
“I think the Chorale is absolutely amazing. It’s definitely changed my life in a very positive way. I’ve always loved singing and Chorale has just heightened that experience for me,” she said.
Next stop on her world tour: Disney World. The Chorale will sing at the Children in Harmony choral festival at EPCOT Center in Orlando, Fla.
“They have worked very hard,” said Linda Bradberry, the artistic director for the Chorale. At a theater in the theme park, along with eight other children’s choruses, they will premier “Everybody Has a Reason,” a new work by composer Jim Papoulis. The Disney company commissioned the work specifically for the choral groups who are participating in the festival.
But the group isn’t hedging its bets with the works it is preparing on its own. They’ll also sing “Papageno-Papagena,” an arrangement from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” as well as several other pieces chosen, Bradberry said, with stretching their horizons in mind. Look also for pieces like “The Birds” and “Credo.”
Over 16 years, Bradberry has been instrumental in taking the chorus from part of a church-centered performing arts school to a stand-alone non-profit organization. She’s developed a tough-but-fair approach and is known for her high standards. But she’s not unyielding. She’s passionate.
“One of my great wishes is that no child be left out of music, because I think they can all sing,” she said. Parents who may have suffered through boy-band song renditions might disagree, but Bradberry insists that natural talent isn’t the point.
“Let me help them sing,” she pleads. “They may not all be wonderful, but they can learn that love for music.”
The Bellmers began that lesson six years ago, when their church choir director recommended that Grace audition for the group. She made it and later so did her younger siblings. Bellmer wouldn’t have them anywhere else.
“They’re much more confident than other children their age,” she said. “The academic experience of having music in their lives has been great — straight-A students, all. They’ve been able to surround themselves with positive influences.”
They have also been surrounded by music: The Chorale sung for Governor Sonny Perdue’s second inauguration; in New York at Carnegie Hall (they got there by practicing) and in Washington, D.C., for Rep. Charlie Norwood. They traveled to a choral festival in Prague, where they sang in the church in which Twentieth Century-Fox filmed the wedding scene from “The Sound of Music.” They also saw Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” performed in the theater in that former Czech Republic in which he premiered his work.
The closest many girls Grace’s age get to opera is a Josh Groban CD, but Grace said that she has developed a real love of opera, and has performed in two productions with the Augusta Opera.
“I think just being in a place with such an esteemed musician as Mozart was — I don’t think there’s a person in the world who hasn’t heard of him in one way or another — that just makes you get all emotional,” Grace said.
And it should, according to Bradberry.
“Music fulfills something in everyone’s life that nothing else can,” she said. “It’s different for each person; it’s always personal. Sometimes a singer can’t tell you what it does.”
But it can be seen. Bellmer said that she and her husband recently attended an honors ceremony at her children’s school and was struck by what she saw as an obvious relationship between music and academic success.
“My husband and I noticed from both groups of children who were being honored for their grades,” Bellmer said. “Three-quarters of the children were either in band or in chorus.”
According to accepted research, music improves spatial-temporal reasoning, a neurological process needed to understand mathematics. It may also improve social development and confidence levels with feelings of mastery and accomplishment.
“I just think that children who are involved in music have parents who do more with them. It takes them places that they typically wouldn’t go to,” Bellmer said, and with a note of pride added, “My daughter went and sang in Prague. She was 12 at the time!”
Then there’s the love of music and the arts that such study instills.
“Many, many majored in voice when they got to college, so a lot of them continue in music,” she said. And the Chorale has turned out more than one adult with an eye on the art form as a profession, according to Bradberry, including one former member who studied voice in Italy for a summer, and one former student who she believes will become a conductor, not a path that many young people choose.
As for Grace, she plans to study music therapy in college at a school in the North.
“I think music will be in my life probably for the rest of it. There’s no doubt about that,” Grace said.The Augusta Children’s Chorale
1301 Greene St.
Augusta, GA 30901

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