They might be just a bunch of kids, but when they sing together as the Salt Lake Children's Choir, they sound like an ensemble of seasoned professionals.

"We aim high, and our concerts are pretty ambitious," founder and director Ralph B. Woodward told the Deseret News.

Woodward doesn't pamper his young singers. He has them sing works that challenge them and stimulate their interest for an ever-expanding range of music. And he resists caving in to current musical fads.

"Too often, we sell out to popular trends just to be placating," Woodward said, "but that isn't necessary. (Children) have a greater capacity than we give them credit for. And you would be surprised what they will request to sing."

And one of the children's favorite pieces, Antonio Lotti's "Miserere," will be performed at the choir's final concerts of the season Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19. "I like to have something from the Renaissance on our concerts," Woodward said, "and even though Lotti isn't strictly from the Renaissance, he wrote in that style, and this piece, I think, captures the essence of that period."

One of the delights of a Salt Lake Children's Choir concert is discovering the versatility of the singers through the richly varied programs. This weekend, the children will once again be singing everything from folk tunes to art songs, all in Woodward's own arrangements.

But with so much music that's readily adaptable for children's voices, Woodward sometimes finds it difficult to select the right blend. "There's a lot of stuff on our program, because most of these pieces are short. It's a real challenge every year to come up with things that we haven't done before and to cover new territory. I'm very fond of music from different countries, but I don't want to neglect the great masterworks or American music."

The program for this weekend's concerts will feature art songs by Brahms, Schubert and Mendelssohn. The choir will also sing "Mountain Nights" by Kodaly, which, according to Woodward, is an evocative vocalise, along with a delightfully florid Spanish song by Rodrigo, who is better known for his works for guitar.

The children will also sing folk music from around the world, including two songs from Namibia, before ending with what has become a choir favorite, Woodward's own "The Lord Is My Shepherd."

Woodward is, in fact, quite an accomplished and talented composer. He has written countless works over the years, mainly for his children's choir, but also other choral pieces that have been performed by quite a few ensembles throughout the state and elsewhere. And Woodward has collected some of his music that's been inspired by his travels throughout the world into a work he calls "Postcards from Paradise," which the children will also perform this weekend.

"I've been to a lot of places in the world, and that's what prompted 'Postcards,' " Woodward explained, noting that these songs evoke the feel and spirit of faraway countries. "It's been fun sharing these different traditions with everyone."

Woodward considers himself fortunate to have the Salt Lake Children's Choir. "The choir has provided a stimulus for further work," he said. "And to have an instrument like children's voices to perform my music has been wonderful."

The concerts take place Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Libby Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus. General admission tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and children and can be purchased by calling the Kingsbury Hall box office at 581-7100 or ArtTix at 355-ARTS or 1-888-451-ARTS. Tickets can also be purchased at Day Murray Music in Murray.

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