The sounds of young voices will be heard in New Orleans over the next few days as 11 children’s choruses from nine states join the New Orleans Children’s Chorus in this year’s 17th annual Crescent City Choral Festival.
Starting with a pre-festival concert Thursday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lakeview featuring children’s choirs from Florida, Colorado and California and ending Monday evening with a full concert at St. Louis Cathedral, the choruses will sing a mix of choral standards from the sacred repertoire and original works by composer-in-residence Andrea Ramsey.
The concerts are free and open to the public.
In between performances and rehearsals, the 300-plus singers, ranging in age from 10 to 18, will be treated to New Orleans cuisine and hospitality, including a chartered ride aboard the Steamboat Natchez and prepaid admission to the Aquarium of the Americas.
Cheryl Dupont, artistic and executive director of both the New Orleans Children’s Chorus and the festival, spoke with pride over what the festival has accomplished since it was founded in 1999.
“In addition to performing at these concerts, the singers also get to see a lot of the city,” Dupont said. “We take care of their meals, charter the boat ride and show them a good time while they’re here.”
Dupont is a longtime former music teacher at Ben Franklin High School who received vocal training under the late Philip Frohnmayer at Loyola University and is a charter member of the New Orleans Vocal Arts Chorale. She explained that seven of the 11 participating choirs will perform a musical selection of their own.
“Four of them are smaller groups who don’t feel like they want to perform without the whole group,” she added. “All of them will join together to sing in the mass choir, and it will be a very beautiful sound.”
Dupont will conduct about half of the selections and guest artist Sandra Snow, of Michigan State University, will conduct the remainder. Jonathan Szymanski and Amanda Wadsworth will accompany the singers on piano, along with two violinists and a guitarist on several other pieces.
The choirs from outside Louisiana will be coming from Florida, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan and Virginia.
Although she counts among her former chorus members international opera stars Bryan Hymel, Sarah Jane McMahon and several other singers who have performed on Broadway, Dupont emphasizes that the NOCC “is not here just to train professional singers. It’s for anyone who wants to sing. And we take anyone. We don’t turn any of these kids away.
“We feel that anyone who wants to learn has a place in our organization,” Dupont continued. “If they can’t pay our tuition, we take the child anyway and find some way of raising the money.”
The NOCC is made up of four separate children’s choirs broken down by age groups between 5 and 18. The singers come from public, private, parochial and home schools from all over the New Orleans area and they meet once a week for rehearsals.
“All we want is to have a nice audience for our festival,” Dupont said. “We’ve done all the work; we just want people to come and enjoy it for free.