A Joining of Voices
Children's choir to tour Portugal
by TRACEY BARNES PRIESTLEY
REMARKABLE INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE of music, ideas and friendship is about to take place for some of our youngest, most talented and hardest-working community members. On June 23, Redwood Coast Children's Chorus [photo below] will leave on its Sixth World Harmony Tour. This year they are bringing their music and message to the people of Portugal.
Kathe Lyth founded RCCC in 1978. From the first six children who sang with Lyth "in the basement of a friend's house," enrollment has grown to more than 150 members. Divided among eight different levels of singing, each group practices weekly, performing in a variety of venues for an even greater variety of audiences.
Lyth stresses that RCCC is a non-competitive program, something I find particularly refreshing in this day and age. Her goal is "to prepare the children to participate in a concert level performing group [and] develop their individual musicianship and enthusiasm for musical achievement."
But Lyth has taken her students far beyond the strenuous technicalities of musical training -- memorization, refinement of tone, harmony, diction, rhythms and finally, mastering the art of singing without musical accompaniment. She has enabled them to take their music into the world of international understanding.
"I was trained in the Kodaly Method, a Hungarian philosophy based on singing. Its founder, Zoltan Kodaly, believed that `music is a language that should be taught to everyone, like reading and writing, so it will become a universal mother tongue which can heal humankind,'" Lyth said.
And so, the RCCC World Harmony Tours were born. Thanks to the effort and support of Lyth, parents and the community, children from our little corner of the world have sung in the former Soviet Union, Romania, Venezuela, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Costa Rica. Lyth is passionate about the children of the RCCC chorus and what they can accomplish. "By sharing their music on a one-to-one basis, I believe they can impact the world. We go as ambassadors of love and peace."
That may sound like "pie in the sky" to those of you who are a bit cynical, but Lyth may be on to something. Think of the reputation we have in some parts of the world. Sadly, the term "ugly American" comes to mind. Now think of fresh, enthusiastic children and young people traveling the globe with music as their language, friendship and understanding as their message. It is a small step but the possibilities are huge.
The upcoming RCCC Portugal tour truly represents a global exchange. Lyth had the good fortune to meet Maria Joao Pires, an internationally recognized concert pianist who has spent the last 20 years developing the Belgais Center for the Study of Arts. Located in a remote area near the Spanish/Portugal border, this innovative educational facility has one main objective, "to offer an environment for support and individual research in the sphere of artistic creation." The center hosts international artists, who regularly provide concerts. (They also record in a studio that is, get this, a painstakingly restored sheep's pen, described by those who have recorded there as "acoustically exceptional.") Besides educational research, the center "invests seriously in the artistic development of the region through activities especially created for children, offering a social environment close to nature, affording children a new perspective on their relationship with the world and art." One of the primary programs of the center is a children's choir that interprets "an enormous musical repertory of every age, taking the voices of the region throughout Portugal and, in the future, to other countries." Sounds a bit like RCCC, doesn't it?
Once Lyth and Pires met, their fate was sealed. RCCC was exactly the kind of creative, innovative program Pires sought for the people of Portugal. Belgais was exactly the kind of innovative, creative experience Lyth sought for the children of RCCC.
Lyth is enthusiastic about the upcoming tour, having taught at the center this spring. "Belgais is, philosophically, a dream place to be." During Easter vacation and the summer, children from all over the countryside are bused to the center for art, drama, music, nature and environmental studies. They are fed from the center's huge organic garden. Children also learn about a variety of projects that are in place to reclaim the land, to recycle materials and to return the area to its natural vegetation. All of this at absolutely no charge to the children's families.
"For our tour," Lyth explained, "we're traveling with 22 members of the Redwood Coast touring chorus ranging in age from eight to 19, plus chaperones. It is like nothing we have ever done before. We'll sleep at a youth hostel near Belgais and the center will act as our home base. Each day, we'll give a concert in two different rural villages. Members of RCCC will have the chance to interact with children from the villages, tour the villages and learn about the environment. We'll go on nature walks and swim in rivers. Throughout the entire tour, we will be accompanied by Filipa Mendes, an administrator from Belgais who speaks perfect English and is a wonderful person. Our bus, organic meals, and lodging, all of this, will be provided through the generosity of the Belgais Center."
One woman from rural California, one woman from rural Portugal, both dedicated to bringing children, music and awareness together to impact the future of the world. It's ambitious. It's lovely. It's good news.
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Members of the Redwood Coast Children's Choir bound for Portugal will give a free farewell concert on Saturday, June 14, at the Calvary Lutheran Church in Eureka at 7:30 p.m.
E-mail your "Good News" ideas to Tracey at email@example.com or leave a message for her at 826-2920.
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.