In 1984 two music teachers decided to start a children’s choir. They planned a choir that would be more than a place for already trained voices; it would also be a place for children of many ages to learn and appreciate music. The two music educators had identified children in the Corvallis and Salem schools who had beautiful voices but would probably not receive any musical training outside of the public school setting. During the first season, 100 children signed up for the choir. The choir consisted of 4th, 5th and 6th graders from Corvallis, Albany, Philomath, and Salem. Singers from the first choir are still involved in music, teaching music, and singing in choirs. Today, the choir supports the music education and personal growth of over 300 children from Benton, Linn and Marion Counties from 2nd through 12th grades. This extended music supports, and is in partnership with, the music education of the local public school districts.
Carol Nelson is co-Founder and Artistic Director of Heart of the Valley Children’s Choir. She holds both a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Music Education from the University of Oregon. Carol has directed choral festivals at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon and at the University of Oregon. She is on the staff of Music EdVentures, a music education research group, and also holds a certificate from the VoiceCare Network. Carol was a music specialist in the Corvallis Public School District from 1971-2007. Carol was a Finalist for the Oregon Symphony Patty Verneer Music Educator of the Year (2004) and was selected for the 2004 Honored Public Servant Award given by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She was also given the Meritorious Service Award for 2004 by the Benton County Foundation. She was invited by the Chinese National Choral Director’s Convention to give workshops in choral rehearsal techniques at Tianjin University, Tianjin, China in the summers of 2005 and 2007 and has recently given workshops for Oregon Music Educator’s Association and Music EdVentures with the help of the Festival Choir.
The Festival and Chamber Choirs have toured extensively throughout Europe over the years. At least one choir tours every three years during the summer. The Festival Choir attended festivals in Canterbury, England, and Paris, France, and was privileged to be invited to sing with the Vienna Boys Choir in Vienna, Austria. The Chamber Choir toured to Corvallis’ sister city of Uzhgorod, Ukraine, where they gave several concerts. Both choirs were invited to tour China in 2005 to sing with the world-renowned Chinese Children’s Choir at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music, give a concert at the Great Wall of China, and attend classes at the Central Conservatory.
In addition to the opportunity to sing with accomplished choirs abroad and take their gifts to others around the world, the children who travel with the choirs gain invaluable exposure to other cultures. The children who tour also come away with musical experiences that leave them changed. In Paris, the Festival Choir sang music composed by Gabriele Faure at the Church of the Madeleine. The music, a mass, was composed specifically for the unique acoustic environment of the church. “It was like looking at the landscape that Van Gogh painted, and you see why he used the medium he used to paint it,” said Carol. “When they sang, it took their voices [to amazing places]—you should have seen the eyes of those kids.”
Membership in the choir is by audition and the singers are placed in the choir that best fits their vocal ability, musical skill, and commitment level. Each member pays tuition and uniform expenses; however, scholarships are provided for those in need. No singer has ever been turned away due to lack of ability to pay. Each choir member has an individual tour account and the parent organization provides various fundraising activities, such as selling ads in concert programs. The organization offers matching scholarships that allow children to go on tour; the children earn half the money and the organization finds donors to match what they earn. Choir members are expected to write three letters to the donors: one before they go, one while they’re on tour, one when they get home. “It teaches the kids that this is what you do when people support you,” says Carol.
The primary focus of the Heart of the Valley Children’s Choir is education. The organization has hosted several famous composers and music clinicians, such as Henry Leck, a world renowned clinician from Indianapolis and Z. Randall Stroope, world famous composer and choral clinician, who wrote a song for the choir. In addition, students who have come up through the ranks can become a student director and learn to direct by assisting with choir rehearsals and concerts. “I’m really hoping that one of them wants to come back and take over,” said Carol.
In 2005, the organization was short on donors, so even after working for three years toward going on tour, some were not able to attend. This was a heartbreaking situation for Carol, who told the ten-member volunteer board that this wouldn’t happen again, even if she had to pay for the children’s trips herself. They decided to use a small donation the choir had received to fund an Agency Endowment with Benton Community Foundation that will provide an opportunity for donors to include the choir in their estate planning. “They know they can leave money to the choir and that it will be managed and their objectives will be met through the Foundation,” said Carol. In addition to providing a way for donors to support the scholarship program, the larger goal is to ensure the long-term viability of the choir. The board wants to hire an executive director, fairly compensate existing employees, and eventually build a facility to house the choir.