Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Daniel Merrill, left, watches director Ralph Woodward during a rehearsal in South Salt Lake. The choir will perform next weekend.

The annual spring concert by the Salt Lake Children's Choir has traditionally been a musical trip that visits many countries and traverses a spacious range of styles and periods. That's partly because founder and director Ralph Woodward enjoys presenting programs of the widest possible scope.

But there's also a more practical reason. "We're able to cover so much ground musically because the pieces we sing are so short," Woodward told the Deseret Morning News. "But even though a lot of them aren't long, they are still interesting and sophisticated."

Audiences will get a chance to hear the children sing on Friday and Saturday in First Presbyterian Church beginning at 7:30 p.m. And this year the group will also present the same program at BYU-Idaho on May 18 and in Brigham City on May 19.

For years, the Salt Lake Children's Choir has held its spring programs in Libby Gardner Concert Hall, but since last year, it's been calling First Presbyterian home. "I like it there," Woodward said. "It has an immediacy with the audience that is nice. You can see the kids better, and the acoustics have improved since their renovation."

Before forming the choir in 1979, Woodward traveled extensively through Europe and South America. From those trips he brought back a wealth of folk songs that he's arranged for children's voices, and which dot the spring programs. This year, there will be songs from Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Finland, Scotland, Bolivia, Brazil, Panama and other countries.

Woodward noted that he chooses folk music not as a novelty but because of musical relevance. "My selections are driven from musical interests. All of these pieces have real musical worth."

In addition to the folk music, the choir will sing "Lift Thine Eyes" from Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah," along with a series of art songs by Mendelssohn ("On Wings of Song"), Brahms ("A Thought Like Music"), Massenet ("Bonne Nuit") and Butterworth ("Loveliest of Trees" from "A Shropshire Lad").

"The kids enjoy many of these masterpieces because of their sheer beauty," Woodward said. And that, in effect, is the impetus behind many of the works he puts on the program. Oftentimes Woodward includes a piece because the children keep asking to sing it. "The kids' interests are broad, and so we're able to engage with them in a varied musical program," he said. "And our tastes are not that different."

Closer to home, the choir will sing two African-American spirituals, "Deep River" and "Let Me Fly." Talking about "Deep River," Woodward said it's been a favorite of the choir for years. Each year the children keep asking to do it. "They really get into it. I feel something very moving about the way they approach it."

Woodward said there is no specific angle to the concert. But with music from the Renaissance to folk, together with spirituals and cowboy songs ("My Home's in Montana"), the concert promises to have something to please everyone in the audience. "The program has a unique thrust, as they all do. I think it's a very rich survey of music, and it'll be a very rewarding concert."

If you go ...

What: Salt Lake Children's Choir, Ralph Woodward, conductor

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

When: Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $8 general admission, $5 students

Phone: 537-1412

E-mail: [email protected]