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MSU Children’s Choir keeps busy all year long

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Grammy Award-winning MSU Children’s Choir began this year by taping a one-hour Christmas special in January. The special, which will air on WKAR in December and be offered nationally to other television stations for holiday broadcast, is just the beginning of a very busy schedule for the group.

The Children’s Choir won Grammy Awards in 2006 for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance for their recording of “Songs of Innocence and Of Experience – A Musical Illustration of the Poems of William Blake.”

The Grammys are always a source of pride which is uplifting for the children, parents and university, but we still have the same goals, purpose and high standards,” said Mary Alice Stollak, director of the Children’s Choir. “That has not changed. We continue on, hoping to educate singers and parents about what it means to be a committed musician.”

Although the Grammys haven’t changed the choir’s foundation, they have given them more exposure. Presently, the choir’s schedule is booked through June 2009.

The choir will perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in March and appear as a guest artist with the “Cello Plus Series” in the MSU College of Music where string musicians come from all over the world. The group will also embark on a number of small tours in Michigan. “Next year is quite something,” Stollak said.

In addition to their “Home for the Holidays” concert taped with WKAR, the choir has a rigorous schedule ahead of them. In January 2009 the choir is performing “Songs for Lada,” a half-hour piece sung in Belarusian. To complete this challenging piece, tutors are being brought in to help the children start learning the language for next year. In spring 2009, the group will perform a song that is close to Stollak’s heart.

After what will be 16 years as the MSU Children’s Choir director, “I Dream of Peace,” written by Bosnian children caught by war, is the piece Stollak wants to do one more time before she retires next year. The choir and Stollak performed the emotionally moving work 10 years ago and it has had a lasting impression on the director.

Rhonda Buckley, executive director for the Community Music School, asked what Stollak envisioned for her last concert. “I said I really have to do this piece once more in life,” Stollak said. “My gift from her was that she made me look at what I would plan for my last concert.”

Stollak recalled when they performed “I Dream of Peace” 10 years ago; a professor approached her afterward and said it was horrible because he had forgotten to bring a hanky. “That is the kind of work ‘I Dream of Peace’ is. I’m so excited to conduct it again and share it with the children. I will always pick meaningful texts for the children so they are able to meet the best poets we have in literature.”

When directing the choir, creating beauty is Stollak’s number one passion. “Art teaches commitment, industry and a sense of knowing when you accomplish something together,” Stollak said. “But most importantly is that we make the world we live in, this culture and community a more beautiful place. I know that our audiences leave a concert uplifted because they understand beautiful poetry, understand words have meaning and can express those things we might not be able to express.”

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