Salt Lake Children's Choir
Salt Lake Children's Choir performs at the Main Library.

When the Salt Lake Children's Choir walks on to the stage in Abravanel Hall for its spring program next weekend, it will be more than just a concert. It will also mark the choir's 30th anniversary.

In its three-decade existence, the choir has been directed by only one person, founder Ralph B. Woodward, who is both thrilled and amazed that the choir is still going strong.

"I never really foresaw it going for so long," he told the Deseret News. "But it has been a rewarding experience."

And the time has gone by rather quickly, he added. "It ought to seem like a long time, but it doesn't. The characters have changed — and I guess I have, too — but we're still doing the same thing."

It was a desire to teach youngsters correct vocal technique that prompted Woodward to start the choir. "You seize the moment," he said. "I was determined to have a children's choir. I put a notice in the paper and kids showed up" for the first rehearsal. That was in October 1979.

Starting the choir was important to Woodward. "I would never have been able to do this unless I had the desire to help and encourage kids to sing. The choir motivated kids to pursue singing and not take the impulse and follow the pop route. There's nothing wrong with pop music, of course, but it's not the best for vocal health."

There was another reason for starting the choir. "There is so much beautiful music, and children can sing it like no one else. It's heavenly hearing a children's choir sing."

And after 30 years, Woodward is still mesmerized by the sound. "Something in the sound still gets me," he said. "It's something indescribable that kids have."

And a lot of that music will be performed at this concert. The program will be a showcase of the choir's 30-year history. And anyone who has attended the Salt Lake Children's Choir previous spring concerts knows what to expect. No one in the audience will be disappointed, Woodward said. "We'll tap into the Renaissance and also do art songs by Schubert, Brahms and Mendelssohn."

The Brahms song they'll be singing, "Nightingale," is a piece that Woodward looks forward to doing again. "It's been years since we did it. It's really introspective and wistful and very beautiful. It takes a lot of insight and maturity to express it, and I think this choir can do it. The song is an absolute gem, and it's gratifying having kids be able to do something like this that is subtle and below the surface."

There will also be quite a few songs that Woodward has written over the years, as well as folk music from around the world. "The concert will be a real excursion," he said. "I've been to a lot of places and I like to take the kids along."

And the best way to do that is through music, he added. "Travel is difficult these days, but we can take flights of fancy."

One region that Woodward knows particularly well is South America. "We'll be doing pieces from Venezuela and the Andes, and also a piece I wrote called 'Canto de Zampoña' that gives my impression of the area when I was there 40 years ago."

There will be several other Woodward compositions as well, including his Calypso-inspired "Down by the Seashore" and "A Day in Spring," a piece that has become the choir's signature song.

Accompanying the choir on some of the Latin folk pieces will be Dave Peterson, playing the cuatro and charango, both of which are guitar-like instruments from South America.

Well-known local accordionist Steve Keen will also be featured.

To help celebrate the choir's anniversary, there will also be an alumni choir of more than 100 voices. "This is an important element of the concert," Woodword said. "Many of them have kids in the choir now, so they'll be singing together on some of the pieces." To connect the alumni singers more closely to the choir, Woodward was careful in choosing their repertoire for the concert. "In most cases I tried to arrange versions of pieces they would have sung when they were in the choir."

Woodward is also busy putting the finishing touches on a new CD, which he hopes to have available in time for the concert. "It's a two-disc set that's drawn from live performances from our previous spring concerts. It's a real cross-section of things we've done."

If you go...

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

Where: Abravanel Hall

When: May 15, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $10 general admission, $6 students (no children younger than 6 admitted)

Phone: 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787