Just about every young boy can’t wait for the day his voice changes, when he can begin to sound older and more mature. That isn’t so for young boys and girls in the Utah Children’s Choir, however, where the sweet and soft voice of a child is fine-tuned to harmonize with other altos and sopranos.
For 25 years, Kay Asay, director of the Utah Children's Choir, has taught more than 500 students the art of music and the power of performing.
Based in Pleasant Grove, the group of more than 50 8- to 15-year-olds meets weekly at the Senior Center for practice. Students learn to concentrate and memorize songs, as well as sing in harmony with other children.
"They seem to be more ready for a group experience at that age," says Asay, who rarely accepts anyone younger than 8.
Former American Heritage music instructor Asay organized the choir in 1984. Several years earlier in California, Asay was the choir director for her LDS ward and organized the annual primary program, after which she learned she had a passion for conducting children's choirs.
"I really got hooked on it and found that that was really my niche," she said. Asay wanted to have an auditioned group so she could have more control.
Asay, now 66, has since had children as young as 7 and as old as 15. The boys usually graduate when their voices change, but the girls can stay up until they start high school, then they get too busy, says Asay.
"I've always felt such a draw to that sound -- the singing, the music," she said. "There's such a purity in the sound.
"When it's done, well there's just nothing like it that compares," Asay said.
Asay challenges her choir to perform well. She has them memorize all of their songs, including the ones in different languages.
The choir's piano accompanist Heidi Rodeback has been with the group since 2002.
"[Kay] expects the best and she gets it," Rodeback said.
Rodeback credits the choir's vocal coach Marilyn Rudolph. "She's a lot of the reason why the children have a full sound."
Rodeback's 14-year-old daughter, a ninth-grader at American Fork Junior High, Meg Rodeback has been with the choir for seven years and says she's had to learn songs in French, German, Latin, Hebrew, Japanese and Indian.
She says that when the words are arranged with music it's much easier to learn, even for an 8-year-old.
"The music that we do is so fun that we enjoy [practicing]," says Meg, who has been with the choir longer than any other child. Meg plans on sticking with the choir for at least another year.
Former UCC soprano Carl Barlow, now 27, says he enjoyed the simple nature of his days in the choir.
"After children's choir, I'll be honest, it's atrocious."
Barlow has made it a central part of his family's life. He married a former Salt Lake Children's Choir singer and concert violinist, and is the choir director in his LDS ward in Salt Lake.
Barlow even sings songs he memorized from his days in the choir to his 5-month-old son as lullabies.
"Let your mind and heart connect with the music," he advises young people. "It's served me throughout my life," he says, even though he struggled through a challenging first year at age 8.
Barlow remembers lying to his mother about a sore throat for two weeks to keep from going to practice. He finally made a decision to stick with it until his voice started changing at age 11.
He says singing in the choir helped him concentrate in school, and that the discipline he developed from the choir has been helpful in many aspects of his life.
"It gives the kids a lot of self-confidence to learn how to work with their voice," Heidi Rodeback said.
The tightly knit nature of the group is something Rodeback says is very special to her and to the children.
"When you join the Utah Children's Choir, you're family," she says. "They give you an element to your upbringing that you can't get anywhere else."
Asay says she hopes the choir will be something positive for her choir children.
"There's a lot things out there that are bad for kids." She want to give children an opportunity to feel what it's like to do something well, she says.
"Choir attracts the good kids," Meg Rodeback said.
More information can be found at www.utahchildrenschoir.com.