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Making beautiful music

Petaluma Children’s Chorus director Linda Manuilow gives some vocal instruction to young singers Bella Blue, left, Billy Hohle, center, and Anna Norkus during a Monday night rehearsal.

John O'Hara
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 2:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 2:13 p.m.

There’s no question that music has a way of moving people in deep and meaningful ways. Perhaps the most profound method of creating music is by means of the human voice.

Facts

PETALUMA CHILDREN’S CHORUS

What: Newly formed children’s chorus.
When: Rehearsals are held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays
Where: St. John’s Episcopal Church
To join: Admission is by audition and $100 fee.
Information: Contact Linda Evans at (480) 226-9157

“Singing is a very powerful art form,” said Linda Manuilow, director of the newly formed Petaluma Children’s Chorus. “Words are powerful. Think about the famous speeches you’ve heard or read. Think about the thought and emotion words and music evoke. They take you to another time and place and bring up feelings. When the person is the instrument and you put words and music together, it’s just amazing.”

Manuilow grew up with a love of music that led her to pursue a degree in music education. She taught music to elementary school children before obtaining a graduate degree in vocal pedagogy, which is voice instruction. She taught at a community college and did private lessons before taking a music teaching position with a high school in Michigan.

Warmer weather beckoned, however, and Manuilow eventually moved to Arizona to teach choir and music theory at a high school before heading farther west — to Petaluma.

“I came here to be closer to family about a year-and-a-half ago,” she said. “I didn’t want to teach full-time anymore, but I missed it terribly.”

Manuilow led a singing workshop at St. John’s Episcopal Church last year, which opened a door to the idea of starting a children’s choir.

“There’s a wonderful choral movement that’s been going on across the country for many years now,” said Manuilow. “I had talked to the pastor of St. John’s about the possibility of putting a children’s choir together in Petaluma.”

The idea was met with great interest and the Petaluma Children’s Chorus began rehearsing with 14 young singers in October. The fall session of the chorus ended with a performance in December.

“We just started our second session and have about 22 kids,” said Manuilow. “I’m hoping it will grow into two choirs: one for beginners and another for some of the more advanced students.”

Students in the chorus, which right now range in age from 7 to 13, must be willing to work toward the goals Manuilow has set. The first goal is that the children learn to “sing beautifully.”

“It’s a style called bel canto, which is Italian for beautiful singing,” she said. “What I mean by it is that the students learn to sing in a manner that’s healthy for the voice and beautiful sounding. It’s not a sound we hear a lot of in contemporary music and pop songs because those styles are usually not good technique for healthy singing. I was taught that if you teach beautiful technique you can sing well from childhood into adulthood.”

Another aspect of this method of beautiful singing is learning to sing in tune and in harmony with others. Manuilow uses rounds to help teach students harmony.

Choir participants also work toward sight reading, which is a very important skill to have when singing in a choir.

“I would say the kids can plan on learning some music fundamentals,” said Manuilow. “It’s like the ABCs of the skill of singing.”

While Manuilow enjoys sharing her love of singing, she also carries a deep passion for choral music. It helps that there’s a renewed mainstream interest in choirs, a cappella and barbershop groups thanks to reality TV shows, such as “Sing-Off,” and TV shows such as “Glee.”

“I get goose bumps when I hear a good choir singing with good text,” she said. “I would say the fourth goal of the children’s chorus is to explore the wide body of choral music out there. There’s so much more music available that’s not trite or stupid. In fact, there’s a world culture of beautiful choral music out there. I had a music history teacher once that would say, ‘so much music, so little time.’”

The one question Manuilow is asked frequently is, “can anybody learn to sing?” Manuilow’s answer is “yes.”

“Anyone can learn to sing, but it depends on how much work you are willing to put into it, because it does take work,” she said. “Some people sound wonderful, but have no sense of key. If they were to continue singing they would need to do a lot of work to learn to sing on key.”

Manuilow likened it to running. Some people have a natural ability to be a strong, fast runner, while others have to work harder to be successful.

“It may never be in the cards for me to be a long distance runner, but I can certainly walk and improve,” she said. “We all come with strengths and weaknesses. Voices are like fingerprints. We all have different ones with different abilities.”

The Petaluma Children’s Chorus meets Monday evenings at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Though the chorus meets at the church, it is not a program of the church. The cost to participate is $100 and there is an audition process for all potential members.

“The audition process is mainly to figure out the child’s range, their intonation and if they can sing on pitch,” said Manuilow.

For information and to schedule an audition, contact Manuilow at (480) 226-9157 or e-mail lmanuilow1@gmail.com.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at Yovanna.bieber ich@arguscourier.com)

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