Alayna Nelson
International Children's Choir on the Great Wall of China.

SALT LAKE CITY — It took someone with a dream — literally — to start the International Children’s Choir 20 years ago.

"One night, I had a dream of children coming down two uniquely curved aisles in a large building that I had never seen before," said Kathy Sorensen, founder and director of the choir. "They were singing in different languages and dressed in different native costumes."

Several years later, Sorensen founded the ICC. Although she toured many concert halls throughout North America and Europe, Sorensen said that none of the buildings matched what she had seen in her dream.

It wasn’t until the Conference Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was completed in 2000 that Sorensen finally recognized the aisles of her dream.

"As a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I had the opportunity to sit up in the choir seats when we sang to dedicate the Conference Center," Sorenson said. "From the audience, it wouldn’t be as obvious how the aisles curve up at the front. But from where I was, I could recognize the unique aisles that I had seen in my dream. This was that building."

Two years later, the picture in the dream was fulfilled when the choir children sang for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Wearing native costumes from different countries, they sang as they marched up the Conference Center aisles.

As the name implies, the International Children’s Choir embraces music and cultures from around the world.

"One of my favorite things about the choir is the way that the music brings people of all faiths and countries together," said Sheri Stettler, long-time choir manager. "We have had children who are Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other backgrounds. They may be fighting on the other side of the world, but here they are brought together in beauty and harmony. It’s a perfect world where everybody gets along."

They take this all-inclusive mind-set with them wherever they travel. Sheryl Laukat, ICC accompanist, marveled, "We were advised not to sing our Arabic repertoire at concerts in Jerusalem. Dr. Sorensen felt we should not cut our program, since it was representative of all cultures. The results were amazing! The Jewish people stood up and danced on an Arabic song and everyone had a delightful time."

The choir and its music are an outgrowth of Sorensen’s doctoral research, which involved interviewing immigrants and refugees and asking them to sing their favorite songs. Some of the choir’s repertoire comes directly from music gleaned in this way, although it also includes traditional classical music and many other styles.

The choir regularly sings for visiting dignitaries, such as ambassadors, heads of state and royalty. The children are able to sing songs in about 40 different languages, but generally focus the performance around songs in the language and from the country of the guest of honor.

"Singing a song in a person's native language lets that person know we care enough to go to the trouble of finding and learning their language and music. VIPs from other lands have gotten tears in their eyes when their own childhood songs are sung by the choir," said Sorensen.

"Last week, we sang for the Ambassador of Hungary and when we finished, he told the children that their performance was the ‘coronation’ of his visit to the United States," she said. "We get comments like that pretty frequently."

While most of the performances are private, the choir will be giving a public Cinco de Mayo concert at the Assembly Hall on May 5, free of charge.

In addition to Spanish music, the program will also include music sung in Arabic, Fanti, Finnish, Swedish, Thai, Maori, Czech, German, Portuguese, English, French and Latin. Many selections will be enhanced by children playing instruments or dancing. To top things off, the program will celebrate the choir’s 20-year milestone with an international medley of birthday music. Former members are invited to sing along.

If you go ...

What: International Children's Choir Cinco de Mayo concert

When: May 5

Where: Temple Square Assembly Hall

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

Rebecca Cline Howard is a former Deseret News music critic. She holds a degree in music composition from BYU and currently resides in Utah with her husband and children. Her daughter is a member of the International Children's Choir.