Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Ralph Woodward practices in March for a performance. Its spring concert boasts songs from the world over, including some from Africa.

With its annual spring and holiday concerts, the Salt Lake Children's Choir has been an important as well as stable force on the local music scene for the past quarter century.

In that time, the choir has seen hundreds, or, perhaps more accurately, thousands of children pass through its ranks, yet one thing has remained constant — the quality of the performances and the dedication and enthusiasm of the children.

And that's what has kept founder and director Ralph B. Woodward going for all these years. "It's the kids. They're the ones who get me to want to keep doing this."

The choir will be performing its spring concert Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church, with a repeat performance on May 12. "I think it has the makings of being a real interesting program," Woodward said.

He added that after doing these concerts for so many years, there might be a certain predictability to them. But with his vast collection of music, Woodward makes sure the choir sings a varied repertoire each year.

A couple of the songs remain the same, though. "The kids always want to sing 'A Day in Spring' and 'Evening Prayer,' " Woodward said, referring to two of his own songs that have become the choir's signature pieces. "We can't get around not doing them."

Uppermost in his mind when programming the spring concerts is ensuring the works are of the highest artistic standards, as well as presenting these young voices to their fullest potential. "I want to set high standards right from the beginning," Woodward said. "But first and foremost, I'm interested in creating beauty."

Woodward knows the choir has the unique ability of bringing a singular joy and eagerness to the music it sings. "They bring feeling and a special dimension to the music. People who say that, 'Well, they're only children; we'll wait until they're grown up and then hear them sing,' don't know what they're missing. These kids have a special effect on people. I don't know what it is, but the sweet, pure sound they have is amazing."

The concert will stay true to the form Woodward established years ago. "I like to set the stage with early music, and then take everyone on a musical journey."

The program will open with brief works by Palestrina and Mozart. And there will also be songs by Schubert, Schumann and Grieg. "Some of the songs by Grieg sound as if they could have been written for children. A song like 'The First Primrose,' which we're doing, is so tender. It has a lot of key changes and it's hard to sing, but the kids are doing a great job with it."

From European art music, the concert will take the audience on a ride through a number of folk songs from Scotland, Ireland, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Africa. "We're going pretty far afield with this program," Woodward said. "I have an inquisitive nature, and I like to cover a lot of ground at these concerts."

Woodward said he was fortunate a few years ago to meet a choral conductor from Namibia who gave him a few folk songs. "I transcribed three of these songs, and we'll be doing one of them at our concerts."

Another song from Africa, "Rain Forest," is a transcription Woodward did of a field recording he heard of Pygmy music. "This has a hypnotic character to it," he said. "It's quite an unusual sonic experience for us, and a far cry from the melody-based music we're used to."

Admittedly, these concerts reflect his personality, Woodward said. "I like going off in different musical directions. I don't know where someone would find something to surpass this musical journey.

"I like to have everyone leave our concerts feeling fulfilled, and I think this will be a great concert."

If you go . . .

What: Salt Lake Children's Choir; Ralph B. Woodward, director

Where : First Presbyterian Church, South Temple at C St.

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $8 adults, $5 students (available at the door, Day Murray Music and Best of Music in Orem)

Web: www.childrensing.com

Also: May 12, 7:30 p.m., First Presbyterian Church; May 20, 7:30 p.m., Provo Tabernacle, 100 S. University Ave., Provo

E-mail: [email protected]