Frederick Children’s Chorus Marks 30 Years of Voice and Song
Thirty years ago when The Frederick Chorale wanted to increase attendance at its concerts, Judith L. DuBose, a member of the chorale and a music teacher, had a simple solution: add some children into the mix. It worked like a charm. Attendance went from 100 to several hundred, and the Frederick Children’s Chorus was born.
“Rather than invite a school to sing with us, I suggested we start our own chorus so we wouldn’t have to work through schools to get permission,” says DuBose, founding director of the chorus. “We started with about 15 children, and grew to 120 over the next five years.”
At that point, the chorale decided to release the children’s chorus from its umbrella. Ted Gregory and Clay Martz were instrumental in helping the chorus establish nonprofit status and begin life on its own, according to DuBose. “We had nine dollars in our bank account,” she says. “We were able to get some grants from the arts council, but at that point we also had to start charging a fee for children to participate.”
Carey Anne Farrell joined the chorus in its inaugural year of 1985. She now lives in Chicago, where she teaches music and writes about music and pop culture for the online magazine REBEAT. She also works with a Facebook group called “Theme Music.” “We do everything online,” says Farrell. “We have virtual bands all over the world.” She credits her chorus experience with giving her the confidence to work with all kinds of people with varying degrees of interest and ability. “I could not wrangle 20 musicians from all over the country and assign musical parts if I had not been doing that from a young age, and watching Ms. DuBose do that,” Farrell says.
In fact, many alumni of the chorus have gone on to work in fields related to music and the arts, one of the most visible being Bobby Steggert, a professional actor in New York City who was nominated for a Tony Award in 2010 for his role in Ragtime.
There are many success stories of those who followed a musical path, as well as those who didn’t. However, a familiar refrain from alumni echoes the benefit of learning to work hard and focus on a goal that has carried them well beyond their chorus years.
“My experience definitely taught me discipline,” says alumnus Taylor Hartman, who is currently working on a master’s degree in holistic nutrition and herbal medicine. “I learned nothing comes easy, but it’s worth it in the end. Ms. DuBose held us to a very high standard from a young age. When you did something right, that smile was the best.”
Today, the chorus features more than 100 singers ranging in age from 8 to 18 years old. During the last three decades, the original chorus grew in two directions: Ten years in, chamber singers were added to accommodate the maturing voices of the original group of singers. Most recently, a preschool program was introduced.
“Music and movement are key factors in brain development,” says DuBose. “Edwin E. Gordon has done a lot of research in this area and he has also shown that a child’s aptitude for music can be manipulated as early as age five.”
Children attend practice once a week and learn to read music, as well as sing. Other benefits include exposure to various types of music; learning to use the voice properly (so it is not strained); performing with such entities as the Maryland Symphony Orchestra; and mentoring younger students and serving as a student conductor. “All of these things give children a leg up in their school chorus or in college if they are pursuing music,” DuBose says.
Carey Farrell’s younger brother Liam was also a part of the first chorus and concurs. “The chorus taught me poise and gave me confidence in front of large groups,” he says.
“I was also active in marching band, but using my voice instead of an instrument helped me stretch my boundaries. I considered the experience a solid building block to my overall arts education,” Liam Farrell adds.
Alumnus Jenna Lebherz Daly trained as an opera singer and now teaches music while also serving as one of the directors for the Carroll County Children’s Chorus. She credits her experience with DuBose for helping her to find her career path and giving her the chance to develop those skills as a student manager and director of the chorus. “She exposed me to a lot of things, and it was those tiny drops that became something more,” Lebherz says.
To keep the chorus fresh for students and audiences, DuBose tries not to repeat any music during a five-year period. And on special occasions, she works with a composer to create original music.
Labor of Love
Everyone who works with the chorus also has a full-time job. Even DuBose continued teaching full-time until she retired two years ago. Now she’s planning another retirement. “I think the team I have in place now will be the one to take over,” she says.
That will be a milestone for the group since the Frederick Children’s Chorus has long been synonymous with DuBose’s leadership, but she is quick to point out her inspiration was not all her own.
“I was fortunate to have mentors with a great deal of skill,” she says. When she heard groups she admired, DuBose would contact the director and try to learn from that person. The choral style of the Frederick Children’s Chorus “was not something I created,” she says. “It was something I copied.”
She may have borrowed from others, as all artists do, but after speaking with many of her students, one thing is clear: She is a force all her own. Long after their goodbyes to the chorus, former students use their experience as a measure of success.
“Every time I perform or record something,” says Carey Farrell, “I can’t help but judge it by, ‘What would Ms. DuBose think? Would she think it’s good?’”
What may have begun as a way to increase attendance and bring children into the musical fold has most certainly evolved into much more. It has become a rich life experience with the power to resonate throughout the decades.
As a legacy goes, a famous quote from internationally renowned music educator Cheryl Lavender may best capture the essence of what the Frederick Children’s Chorus offers its students: “The fact that children can make beautiful music is less significant than the fact that music can make beautiful children.”