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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Director Ralph Woodward leads members of the Salt Lake Children's Choir in practicing recently for a performance in South Salt Lake. The choir began 26 years ago.

It was seeing a need that first motivated Ralph Woodward to start the Salt Lake Children's Choir 26 years ago.

Woodward had heard other children's choirs around the world performing and had a strong background in music himself as both his parents were renowned voice teachers at BYU. He thought there was enough talent and interest in the Salt Lake City area to start a new choir, geared for children ages 8-15.

"I felt that there was a need for a children's choir of a high order here and also the potential," he said. "I also thought there was a type of singing prevalent at the time in children's groups that I felt was not conducive to proper vocal contriving."

The choir has come far from the humble beginnings of its first season with less than two dozen children to its present size of two ensembles, or groups, with between 90-100 participants. The choir has concerts twice a year, in the spring and at Christmas. Woodward arranges many of the pieces the choir performs himself.

The choir hasn't gone in a different direction than Woodward first expected, but it has evolved and gained notoriety he hasn't really aspired to. His emphasis has always been teaching children to sing.

"My main focus has been the doing of it and the teaching," he said. "The children come and go so their experience is relatively brief, but their experience is the most important thing."

Although traveling is not the focus of the choir, they have traveled some. They have gone to six different conventions for the American Choral Directors Association in cities including Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They were also invited to participate in festivals in Canada and went a couple of times to the Bay area Golden Gate International Children's Choir festival. However, Woodward says much of the choir's travel is through the imagination, which, he quips with a smile, is cheaper.

Last year the choir celebrated its 25th anniversary and had a reunion with former choir members. An alumni choir performed at the spring concert, joining the current choir for the finale. Woodward said he has been doing the choir so long that he is now teaching children of former choir members, some of whom performed in the alumni choir last year.

Woodward has learned many things while conducting the choir over the years including such things as older children aren't necessarily better. He's also found the untapped potential inside children and that trusting them can help bring it out.

"I've learned how to appreciate the potential of young people and their ability to learn and to absorb, to adapt and to excel," he said. "I've learned to trust others more, especially children because they will respond to that trust. Oftentimes, they are the ones that will pull me through."

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The Salt Lake Children's Choir will have their spring concerts Saturday, May 6, and Friday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Presbyterian Church on the corner of South Temple and C Street. The cost to attend will be $8 per person and $5 for students and children. Admission is limited to children over 6 years of age. An additional concert will be held May 20 in the Provo Tabernacle. For more information about the Salt Lake Children's Choir, visit their Web site at www.childrensing.com.

Doing the choir for so many years hasn't diminished the joy Woodward finds in doing it.

"It's as rewarding now as it's ever been," he said. "That may be because I'm able to learn a little bit more about how to do it all the time. It's never easy."


E-mail: twalquist@desnews.com