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.
"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."