It's hard to believe, but the Salt Lake Children's Choir is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. Over the past two decades, the choir has become a mainstay on the local music scene, performing with such well-known artists as Frederica von Stade, Marvin Hamlisch and Pete Seeger and recording with groups such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony.

But one of the choir's biggest triumphs happened last summer when it placed second at the Golden Gate International Children's Choral Competition in Oakland, Calif., where it competed against groups from around the world.

Now, the Salt Lake Children's Choir is busy preparing to commemorate its anniversary with a concert Saturday evening in Abravanel Hall. Founder and director Ralph Woodward promises that there will be a lot of audience favorites on the program and that there also will be a few surprises during the course of the evening.

"The program will be kind of typical of what we like to do at this time of year," Woodward told the Deseret News. "I like to begin with fairly classical fare, and we will be doing two or three art songs and maybe one or two selections by Schumann and also a couple of pieces of my own.

"Then we'll sing some folk songs from Wales, Ireland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Tyrol and the Ukraine. And we're going to end the concert with 'A Day in Spring,' which has become our signature piece."

"A Day in Spring" is also the title of the Salt Lake Children's Choir's newest CD. "Some of the pieces that we're doing on the concert are on this album," Woodward said, "and I'm counting on the CD being available at the concert."

The biggest surprise of the anniversary concert will be a performance by an alumni choir made up of former choristers. "So far, we're going to have over 90 in our alumni choir, and we're still getting responses from former members. I just hope we're going to have enough scores for everyone!"

Woodward is thrilled to get such an overwhelming response from these former members. "It's heartwarming for me to have so many come and sing in the alumni choir. We have someone coming here from California and someone else coming from New York. And some of these kids I haven't seen since they left the choir."

Additionally, two members of the alumni choir who have gone on to pursue a career in music will be featured as soloists at this concert. Both Nancy Treu Jepson and Erin Palmer got some of their earliest exposure to music as members of the Salt Lake Children's Choir.

"There have been many (former choristers) who have gone on in music," Woodward said. "Nancy Treu Jepson won the Utah (Metropolitan Opera) auditions a few years ago, and Erin Palmer, who sang in the choir for many years, has a Howard Hansen Scholarship at Eastman School of Music."

Woodward is reluctant to acknowledge his role in his former choristers' accomplishments. "I can't really take credit for their successes. I try to provide a foundation for the children. I don't encourage them to take voice lessons."

Still, it's apparent that Woodward's approach in teaching the children to sing is the key to their future success in music. "I don't pry it out of them. I think the sound is naturally there. I want to free them so that they can express vocally what nature has provided them.

"During the auditions, I basically look for potential. Most of the children don't have any prior training at all. Some come from musical families, and some play the piano. And sometimes, kids don't sing in tune, but I can usually help them with that on the spot.

"You need to be encouraging to a child. Singing is a birthright, and I want them to sing."

Woodward estimates more than a thousand children have sung in his choir over the past 20 years. But so far, he hasn't had any children of former members in his choir, although by now that has become a distinct possibility.

"That hasn't happened yet," he said, "but I'm sure it's going to happen sooner or later."

The Salt Lake Children's Choir anniversary concert takes place in Abravanel Hall on Saturday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, at $8 for general admission and $6 for students and children, are available by calling ArtTix at 801-355-ARTS or 1-888-451-ARTS. Tickets can also be purchased at the ArtTix outlets in Abravanel Hall and the Capitol Theatre and also at Day Murray Music, 4914 S. State, Murray.

For information about this concert or about the Salt Lake Children's Choir, call 801-537-1412.