Local chorus adds polish to children’s voices | AspenTimes.com

Local chorus adds polish to children’s voices

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Contributed photoThe Maroon Bel Canto Children's Chorus performs Monday in Snowmass Village and Wednesday in Basalt.

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – For several years, Paul Dankers, music director of the Snowmass Chapel and a enthusiast for vocal music, had been thinking that what the Roaring Fork Valley needed was a children’s choir. But Dankers was envisioning a serious endeavor, where the students would learn traditional repertoire and classical singing techniques. He concluded that it was not a one-man job and put out feelers to potential colleagues. When no one climbed on board, he put his idea on the shelf

About three years ago, Dankers got a call from Katie Schmidt, the music teacher at Coal Ridge Middle School and High School, in New Castle. Schmidt wanted Dankers, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in choral music, to give her students a clinic in preparation for a festival. Dankers accepted, but with further plans in mind. One day, sitting with Schmidt at a brew pub in Glenwood Springs, the two floated ideas for a local children’s choir, and Dankers realized he had the accomplice he needed.

“She got really excited. She became the driving force,” Dankers recalled. She said, ‘I REALLY want to do this.’ But working with a children’s choir is not something you can do singlehandedly; it take more than just me. She decided to go for it.”

Schmidt brought in another Katie -Katie Hone Wiltgen, the choir director at the Basalt Middle School. The three began envisioning – “just dreaming about what we wanted, how the rehearsals would look, what would be important to us,” Dankers said.

They came up with a clever name – Maroon Bel Canto Children’s Choir – and in 2008 began training and putting on concerts at the Snowmass Chapel. A year later, the group got another key collaborator – the Aspen Music Festival and School, which is giving financial and marketing support. “That was a big deal for us,” Dankers said.

The group – now with 14 singers, and once a week rehearsals in Snowmass and Basalt – is set for its latest round of concerts. On Monday, they perform at the Snowmass Chapel; on Wednesday, they lift their voices at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Basalt. The program includes classical, Christmas and folk pieces: Woody Guthire’s “This Land Is Your Land,” “Simple Gifts,” Pachelbel’s Canon, “Ode to Peace,” and the novelty number “Christmas in About Three Minutes.”

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Part of the inspiration for the Bel Canto Children’s Choir has come from the kids-oriented Jayne Gottlieb Productions, based in Basalt. “The kids are getting really great theater instruction, but there’s not much choral instruction outside of the schools,” Dankers said. And like Jayne Gottlieb Productions, Bel Canto has been aiming high, believing that kids are capable of performing at a high level.

“It’s not a thing where we just sit with the kids,” Dankers said. “It’s not a babysitting service. It’s about how to sing well, how to make good vocal tones.” And Dankers has seen that the students appreciate being taken seriously. “They enjoy learning to sing things correctly, proper vowel formation, breathing, diction. Proper technique – that’s something they’re not getting anywhere else, or only minimally.”

Dankers himself hasn’t needed lessons in how to be enthusiastic about teaching choir. After starting out as a flute major in college, in his native Wisconsin, he auditioned for choir and found his passion.

“I liked singing. It was more of a personal expression to me than band,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d do without that side of my life, the ability to express myself through singing.”

steward@aspentimes.com