Chuck Wing, Deseret Morning News
Salt Lake Children's Choir Director Ralph Woodward rehearses with the children in May 2000.

The Salt Lake Children's Choir has once again been honored by being accepted to perform at this year's American Choral Directors Association western-division convention. This will mark the fifth time the choir has had the distinction of taking part at the association's Western convention, which includes directors and choirs from Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and Hawaii.

The convention, which this year takes place in Las Vegas, runs Thursday through Saturday. The Salt Lake Children's Choir will sing at the opening session.

Choir founder and director Ralph B. Woodward is looking forward to taking his group to Las Vegas. "This is a pretty big event. You have choral directors coming from throughout the western division to get energized and revitalized. You're singing to a highly discerning but also appreciative audience, which makes performing for them so rewarding."

Woodward said that it's not easy for a choir to get accepted to perform at one of the conventions. "The association has rigid requirements for choirs wanting to participate." In addition to submitting a performance tape from the current year, the choir must also send in tapes from the preceding two years. "They're looking for consistency."

Twenty choirs will be at the convention, including one other from Utah, the Woods Cross High School Madrigals, making its first appearance at an ACDA convention.

Woodward said there are some outstanding choirs among the groups that will be performing. "There are some very big groups coming — the Tucson Boys' Choir, which has an illustrious history; the University of Southern California Chamber Choir, which has won lots of competitions; and the Los Angeles Children's Choir."

The music Woodward has selected for his choir will include some of the pieces they'll sing at their spring concert in May in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. "It's a varied program that I'm pretty excited about, and it's all going to be sung a cappella." The program, which can't exceed 25 minutes in length, includes works by Palestrina, Kodaly and Pavel Chesnikov as well as folk songs, a spiritual and a Native American piece.

The children like to sing a large variety of works, said Woodward, so this program should appeal to them. "The kids like to be stretched. They like going in lots of different directions — that's why I look for stimulating repertoire."

One work in particular that Woodward is looking forward to doing again is "Venite Exsultemus Domino," by the Argentinean composer Antonio Russo. The choir sang it for the first time at its Christmas concert. Woodward said the children enjoy singing it, which pleases him, since it took him months and numerous phone calls to Buenos Aires in order to obtain a copy of the score. "The Russo is a difficult piece but not as hard as it sounds. It's very skillfully written. I like the piece and so do the kids."

Woodward said that children are much more discriminating in their musical taste than adults often give them credit for. As an example, he points to the music of Palestrina. "The kids love to sing Palestrina. They can sense internally that this is great music."

The trip to Las Vegas will be short. The choir leaves Salt Lake City early Wednesday and returns the next night. In those two days, the choir will perform three times. Besides the appearance at the convention, the choir will also sing Wednesday evening in a Las Vegas LDS stake center that will be hosting them. And on the drive home Thursday, the choir will stop in St. George for a concert in the Tabernacle at 7 p.m.

Woodward said that, compared with other years, this year's choir is fairly small. And the group has been reduced even further because several of the singers wont be able to make the trip to Nevada. Nevertheless, Woodward is confident that the quality of the choir's performance will make up for its scaled-down size. "These kids will do well. They can pull it off."

And besides, they have everything they need to be successful. "We have good music, good kids and a strong program."

E-mail: [email protected]