WALKER — About 60 members of the Livingston Parish Children’s Choirs spent July 15-18 exercising their singing skills at the annual summer camp at the Revival Temple Church.
Youngsters, ages from entering kindergarten through seventh grade, participated in several daily sessions learning how to sing in groups and preparing for their summer concert, which was presented to the public in the church’s main sanctuary July 18.
The camp was led by retired music teacher and longtime children’s choirs director Barbara Walker.
“I think it’s been about 15 or more years but I’ve lost count," Walker said. "I realized this year that about a dozen of my campers are the children of choir campers from years gone by. I’ve been at this a long time ... but it never gets old. ... I still enjoy every minute of it.”
At the start of the camp, Walker divides her singers into three groups: kindergarten and first-graders; second- and third-graders; and fourth- through seventh-graders. Each group is given age-appropriate music.
The children train under Walker and her two assistant teachers, Josh Toups and Robin Truax. Toups, also a veteran of the choir camps, also has theatrical experience and brings that skill set to the choir camp.
Truax, like Walker, is a retired music teacher. Each has more than 35 years of experience teaching music. The staff is augmented by counselors who have also attended music camps.
The counselors, Walker explained, are also members of advanced choirs who eagerly await the chance to assist with the younger musicians.
“The counselors want to do this. ... They remember the fun and joy they experienced when they were attending the camp, and they want to share that experience with the youngsters. They certainly help make the camp run smoothly,” Walker said.
Walker said learning to be part of a choir is an “extremely valuable experience” for a child.
“Music touches the hearts and minds of those who decide to make music. By being a part of a choir, a child can obtain a much more valuable experience than pursuing music education alone. Singing with a choir teaches a child to learn to depend on others ... to be part of something larger than yourself. Members of a choir learn to lean on each other and that’s an important lesson in making music and in life,” she said.
Walker observed, “In a choir, you are part of a circle and being in that circle makes you a stronger person. Music is more fun when it is shared by a group through a choir. Learning to commune with others is an important life lesson, and being in a choir teaches that.”
Walker added that the children establish friendships through choir camp that can extend for years.
She said the camp teaches the younger children what she termed car vacation songs. “Our kids learn some fun little songs that they can sing in the car and drive their parents crazy. ... But it’s all in fun,” she said.
Walker uses music to teach lessons. For example, the children were practicing singing a song that had keep smiling as its major theme. After a few lines, Walker stopped the group and told them, “You should learn to keep smiling through the day no matter what your feelings are. Even if you are hurting, you should try to keep on smiling. Life is not perfect all the time, but it won’t do you any good to go around looking like you just ate a sour pickle. Life will get better, and if you smile, other people will smile with you and we’ll all make each other feel better.”
At another point in the song, the lyrics note "blue skies will chase away the dark clouds.” Again, Walker pointed out, “Blue skies are happy skies and dark clouds are sad skies. Don’t be a quitter, always believe that the blue skies will drive away the dark skies in your lives.”
Benjamin Hurley, the head counselor, said the choir camp builds a sense of community among the participants while teaching them musical skills.
"The social interaction among the camp participants is an important part of the choir camp and it means a lot to the kids," he said.
"Besides learning how to make new friends, they are learning leadership skills. It’s just a really rewarding experience all the way around.”
Hurley, who will be a junior in high school next year, said music will always be a hobby even though he does not anticipate making music the focus of his eventual professional life.
Karen McGibbaney, accompanist for the choirs, said choir camp is an opportunity to do something special for the children.
“At choir camp, these wonderful children are experiencing something that they would not otherwise have an opportunity to be a part of and that is certainly rewarding. Also, working with Barbara Walker is a privilege. ... She is an amazing music teacher.”