If you ask artistic director Beth Klemm, people often underestimate the Central Coast Children’s Choir at first.
“Once you’ve seen a concert, you realize there’s so much these children can do,” she said. “Most people don’t understand (that) until they hear them. They go, ‘I didn’t know kids could sing like that.’ ”
“We try to get a really polished performance,” she added, “as professional as kids can be.”
The Central Coast Children’s Choir celebrates its 20th anniversary this month with two concerts — “Celebration of Song,” which takes place Saturday and Sunday at San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church, and “Can You Hear Me Calling?” on May 30 at Mission San Miguel.
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This weekend’s concerts will feature singers age 7 to 18 performing folk songs and classical works from around the globe as well as the world premiere of the song “Barter” by Cal Poly associate music professor Meredith Brammeier.
According to Klemm, who has led the Central Coast Children’s Choir for 18 years, the group started out with just 15 singers.
Today, the choir has about 90 members divided up into ensembles based on age and skill level: Debut Choir (grades two to four), Apprentice Choir (grades four to six), Premiere Choir (grades five to nine) and Concert Choir (grades seven to 12). There’s also a small Advanced Vocal Ensemble for “extra-committed kids who want another push,” she said.
In addition, the Central Coast Children’s Choir offers a nine-week Music Makers introductory course for children in kindergarten and first grade.
Klemm said it’s not unusual for choir members — a mix of public, private and home-schooled students from across the county — to join the group in elementary school and stay until they graduate from high school.
Some have gone on to sing in community groups including the Cuesta Master Chorale and San Luis Obispo Vocal Ensemble, added the artistic director, who has taught choir at Atascadero Fine Arts Academy since it opened in 2000. She also teaches music at San Benito and Monterey Road elementary schools in Atascadero.
“Some kids, they find their passion and they really want to grow and grow and grow,” Klemm said. “It shows you that their commitment to stay in it is based on the level of music they perform.”
She cited “Barter,” which the choir commissioned Brammeier to write, as a perfect example. The song takes its text from Sara Teasdale’s poem of the same name, which proclaims “Life has loveliness to sell.”
The Central Coast Children’s Choir’s 20th anniversary season will include a special summer trip.
In July, 26 choir members will travel to England for the International Children’s Choir Festival, marking the first time the group has performed outside the country. The singers will be accompanied by 16 adult chaperones, including Klemm and fellow director Melody Svennungsen.
The weeklong trip includes concerts at Canterbury Cathedral and Southwark Cathedral in London, Klemm said.
Next season, Klemm said she’d like to welcome more singers into the Central Coast Children’s Choir.
She’s also interested in creating a youth ensemble that would feature older boys and girls, and reviving the boys choir she and Thomas Davies, Cal Poly’s director of choral activities and vocal studies, launched in 2008. (It folded about five years later when Davies’ schedule no longer allowed him to serve as conductor.)
“The skills you learn in a choir are so applicable to … being successful in life,” Klemm said, such as dedication and teamwork. “On top of that, you get to make a beautiful sound together.”
IF YOU GO
Central Coast Children’s Choir
“Celebration of Song”
3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church, 1515 Fredericks St.
$10 to $18
“Can You Hear Me Calling?”
7 p.m. May 30
Mission San Miguel, 775 Mission St., San Miguel
$10, $5 children
464-0443 or http://centralcoastchildrenschoir.org
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.