Of all the voices raised in song to herald the celebration of Christ's birth, none are so angelic as the voices of children. All of us who missed the original angels singing on that first Christmas night can get the next best thing this weekend when the Salt Lake Children's Choir performs.
Director Ralph B. Woodward will conduct the choir in a special Christmas program at the Cathedral of the Madeline on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 2 and 3, at 8 p.m. Admission is free but is limited to those 6 years of age and older.
"I think there's a special honesty and openness that (the children) possess that I appreciate," Woodward told the Deseret News. "There's also an optimism and exuberance that they bring to what they do that helps me in my work. They just seem to have a great abundance of these qualities that kind of carries me along.
"We have a lot of fun, and that's a big part of it. But also, they just have a tremendous capacity to soar. I think that the sound that they can create has a unique ability to touch one's heart, and so, to me, it's the preferred medium. It's not that I don't love other choral singing, but as an instrument, I think that it's just something special."
This kind of "something special" began as an idea when Woodward was still a student. "I lived for several years in Europe as a student and performer on (the French horn)," said Woodward. "But even when I was living there, I always intended to teach youngsters to sing. I wasn't satisfied just playing in an orchestra.
"Eventually, when I came back to the United States, I drew from this background that I had of living abroad, as well as this exposure that I had to fine singing and children's choirs from elsewhere. I decided that something of the sort could be established here in Salt Lake."
Woodward founded the Salt Lake Children's Choir in the fall of 1979 and has been leading children in song ever since.
"I felt and (still) feel that there's a great wealth of wonderful music that is very suitable for children to sing and for this special sound that they produce. We emphasize the music of the immortal masters, but at the same time, love to explore a wealth of global music. I speak several languages, and I'm closely acquainted with many countries of the world. It's been fun for me to be able to, through the choir, not only perform wonderful masterpieces, but to share the wealth of the various cultures of the world musically."
Woodward said the choir would be singing some of these international pieces on the program this weekend. "We'll be singing in Polish, Czech, French and Spanish," noted Woodward, adding that the children don't have much trouble with the pronunciation. "We'll be singing a song from Chile, a piece I wrote in Andean style, and also a calypso.
"We will be singing music of Palestrina, Bach and an arrangement by Gustav Holst. Then we will sing some carols such as 'Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming' and 'Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.'
"There's another piece that's extremely demanding by British composer Bill Tamblyn. It's an exquisite piece on the . . . text which most people know as 'Jesus the Very Thought of Thee.' This translation is 'Jesu, Delightful to the Mind.' It's just quite mystical and ethereal-sounding, and extremely beautiful and challenging."