IN A WORLD of declining standards — where a rap song without profanity is considered an artistic breakthrough — the Savannah Children’s Choir defies the trend.
The nonprofit performing group, which includes local schoolchildren from second through eighth grades, insists on at least a B average from its young singers, all of whom also have to pass a vocal audition. And if they have trouble keeping their grades up, the Choir provides free tutors.
“We’ve brought in people to work with them, and as long as kids make a commitment to us, we make a commitment to them,” says Roger Moss, Choir artistic director and one-time American Traditions finalist. “On a national level we’re one of the few choirs that has that requirement. Let’s put it this way: I couldn’t have been in this choir.”
But far from an elitist gathering of pampered kids, Savannah Children’s Choir recruits from across the community, regardless of background.
“The other thing that separates us from most childrens choirs we’ve seen is that ours is multicultural,” explains Moss. “Most choirs are white suburban choirs. But our kids come from every walk of life — we have public school kids, private school kids, home school kids.”
Savannah Children’s Choir Managing Director Cuffy Sullivan says that regardless of background, their singers are responding to what society has largely stopped doing: Holding them to a higher standard.
“We’ve found that kids rise to expectations,” says Sullivan. “And unfortunately, kids today don’t have very many expectations placed on them.”
“We set the bar so high and these kids have so much fun meeting it, it’s crazy,” echoes Moss.
The group’s emphasis on whole-child development, in academics as well as in music, has paid real-life dividends. Both Sullivan and Moss point to the example of two members who made real life changes as a result of singing in the choir.
“For a couple of our girls this has been absolutely pivotal for them,” says Sullivan. “They were at junctures where their lives could have gone on a very different path. Because of the confidence they gained and the success they experienced in the Choir, they’ve taken the positive path for their future.”
Moss describes the difficulties of teaching music to entire classes of Savannah schoolchildren who have grown up on a steady diet of hip hop.
“I was working with some middle school boys, and it was hard for them to match pitch. So I asked how many of them have heard real singers before, and it turned out that 90 percent of them had only heard rap,” says Moss in amazement.
“Hip-hop artists have a range of six notes at the most. So these kids have grown up literally deprived of music.”
The kids who show an aptitude for singing and the determination to keep their grades up go on to comprise the Savannah Children’s Choir.
And after that, singers can take that experience and make it work for them.
“So far, 100 percent of our singers who have tried out to get into the Savannah Arts Academy have made it in,” says Sullivan.
This year, the Choir hopes to send its older students to represent Georgia at a festival in England. To raise funds, this Dec. 15 the Choir holds a unique event called “Let Them Eat Cake.”
“People pay $10 to come in, and they get to sample cakes from everywhere. Places like Lulu’s, Baker’s Pride, it’s a very impressive list,” says Moss.
“Bobby Deen will be a celebrity judge,” says Moss. “I joke that all these ladies that want to marry a Deen need to bake a cake and send it in, because he’s the only single one left.” cs
When: Mon., Dec. 15, 6-8 p.m.
Where: Eckburg Auditorium on Savannah Tech's White Bluff campus