ELLSWORTH — Few would argue that hearing children sing is just about the most beautiful sound in the world, right up there with hermit thrushes and nightingales.
Last week, the Moore Community Center’s halls were ringing with that lovely sound while the ECMI Youth Chorale rehearsed John Rutter’s “Mass of the Children,” which they will perform as part of the Bagaduce Chorale’s annual winter concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, and at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Ellsworth High School auditorium.
A relatively new children’s choir, which has never sung for the public before, the ECMI Youth Chorale is a collaboration between the Ellsworth Community Music Institute (ECMI), Mount Desert Island High School Vocal Music Director Bronwyn Kortge and the Sunrise County Arts Institute’s Artistic Director Danielle Woerner.
Many of the 15 or so young singers, who range in age from elementary to high school, are unusually experienced, having performed with their various schools’ show and concert choirs. Some also are serious enough about their singing to take private lessons.
“These children come to us with terrific voices,” Woerner said after the rehearsal. “So, I can’t take credit for that. But I can help them — especially the boys — navigate the breaks in their voices, learn techniques that help them make a smooth transition from the falsetto to their chest voices.”
Woerner and Kortge spent a fair amount of time coaxing several chorus members to open their mouths good and wide while singing the vowel sounds and to enunciate the consonants. The young singers take the instruction to heart and bravely open up those vowel sounds and turn up the volume without worrying about making a mistake or hitting a false note, both of which seem to be rare.
“Bronwyn and I are so impressed with the progress these kids are making and the excellent music they are producing,” Woerner said.
The music they are singing is not easy. Not only is the score challenging, with deep, lush harmonies, but passages in Latin and Greek are interwoven throughout the five movements.
Learning the words and the meaning of the words they are singing would be a formidable task for a singer of any age, but Woerner says the chorale has handled it all spectacularly.
One boy in particular a teenager named Noah Carver, who sings second soprano, has an extra challenge to rise to. He is blind, so he memorizes the music by ear and the text from Braille printouts his mother makes for him. He picks up the vocal dynamics — the stops, the vocal surges and ebbs, from his fellow singers. Young Noah manages this all so seamlessly that his disability is unnoticeable until he picks up his white cane at the end of the rehearsal.
While Rutter’s piece, which debuted in 2003, is organized in the conventional Catholic liturgical form with the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei movements, the composer has added verses from the poetry of 17th and 18th century poets, William Blake and Bishop Thomas Ken. Woerner says these secular additions make the piece, which starts with a happy awakening to a new day, and ends at nightfall and sleep, more spiritual than religious, with a joyousness appropriate to the season.
This should all be a welcome counterpart to the more formal Mozart Mass in C minor (rather fittingly composed when Mozart was 17), which the Bagaduce Chorale will perform Dec. 14-16.
Tickets cost $20 per adult and can be purchased at the Blue Hill Public Library, Flexit Café & Bakery (192 Main St. in Ellsworth), Sherman’s Books & Stationery shop in Bar Harbor and the Southwest Harbor Public Library. Admission is free for students.