On Saturday, April 30, 2016, the Nashville Children’s Choir Program held their annual spring concert, as they have every year for more than 25 years. This year’s performance was even more touching than previous years’ performances – not only was the concert the culmination of the year’s rehearsals presented by the more than 250 singers in the program’s 4 choirs. In addition, some 80 alumni – including many in their 20s and 30s – joined the choirs for the day to rehearse a very special “Homecoming” program presented that afternoon that included singers who participated in NCC in the past as well as currently enrolled choristers.
In addition to the many hundreds of parents, grandparents, and other family and friends of the choirs who were present for the concert held at First Baptist Church in downtown Nashville, Metro Councilman Freddie O’Connell (District 19) read a proclamation from the Metro Council honoring the Nashville Children’s Choir, and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry also spoke briefly to the choirs and all assembled about the remarkable accomplishments of this organization and how important music and the experience of singing in a choir can be for young people.
I’ve attended many NCC performances since 2009 – probably more than twenty at this point, as my daughter sang with the program for six years, singing in three NCC choirs successively as she worked her way up through the program to the illustrious Touring Choir, from which she graduated in 2015. As it has been for so many Nashville families, NCC was a vital part of my family’s life for many years.
The Nashville Children’s Choir was founded in 1989 as a community based children’s choir in cooperation with Belmont University. Like many other regional children’s choirs around the country, NCC is an auditioned program that provides a sequence of choirs for children in grades 3-8 in which they are placed according to ability, accomplishment, and maturity:
- Preparatory Choir
- Concert Choir
- Touring Choir
In addition, the Nashville Youth Choir for students in grades 9-12 was added to the program in 1995.
The Touring Choir – as the name of the ensemble suggests – performs throughout Middle Tennessee during the year and traditionally goes on tour farther afield each spring: they have traveled to Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Boston, San Diego, and many other U.S. cities over the years. This spring – next weekend in fact! – they are returning to New York City for the first time since 2002. They have performed with the Nashville Ballet, Nashville Opera, Nashville Symphony, ensembles at Belmont University School of Music, and at national conferences for MENC (now NAfME) and AOSA, the Tennessee Conference of ACDA, and many more. They are featured performers on the PBS special Christmas at Belmont broadcasted nationally every other year, and due to the very good fortune of being located here in Music City, participate in perhaps more than their share of special performances and recording projects than is usual for a regional children’s choir.
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Thank You, Dr. Bridges
In a moving address near the end of Saturday’s concert, NCC Program Director Madeline Bridges shared some statistics: between 800-1,000 students have graduated from either the Touring Choir, the Youth Choir, or both since the program was founded, and over 4,000 children in all have participated in NCC over the last 27 years.
I am incredibly fortunate to not only have witnessed Dr. Bridges’ exemplary dedication and acumen as a parent of one of her choristers – I was myself her student, when I attended Belmont as a graduate student a number of years ago to earn my teaching certification. I was extremely lucky to have her as my academic advisor and as my professor for two music education classes back then, one of which was in the summer, and enabled our small class to interact with and learn from her in a slightly more relaxed atmosphere than during the school year.
I’ve known Dr. Bridges for about a decade now, and my amazement at her seemingly indefatigable energy and enthusiasm for her work as a teacher, administrator, mentor, and encourager is renewed with every contact. She is simply one of the most inspiring human beings I have ever met. Directing NCC is in many ways what she does for “fun” or for the joy of it – her main “gig” is her position as Associate Dean for Academic Studies and Professor of Music Education in the School of Music at Belmont University. What I have found so inspiring about all of my interactions with Dr. Bridges over the years is the great care, concern, and good humor she is able to communicate to everyone she interacts with. She is as capable as any conductor must be at “laying down the law” and is firmly in control of every situation I have ever seen her be in charge of, yet I have never seen her do so without grace and kindness.
In many ways, it is due to her strong yet gentle guidance that NCC has became such a powerful force for good in our community and beyond.
Dr. Bridges became co-director with NCC founder Marilyn Shadinger in 1990, and assumed primary responsibility for the NCC choirs in 2007 when Mrs. Shadinger retired. Since then she has not only overseen the entire program, but conducted the Touring Choir, and mentored and contributed to the career development of the many co-directors, assistant directors, accompanists, and volunteers who contribute their efforts to NCC. For the majority of NCC’s history, Dr. Bridges has set the tone for this organization.
For all of these individuals – the adults who have contributed to the success and growth of NCC – participating as leaders in an organization like a community children’s choir is an act of love. The monetary remuneration they receive comes nowhere close to compensating them for the amount of time and effort they put into this work, which has profound and lasting effects on the lives of the children and families who participate – and in turn, on all those who come into contact with them.
Children who learn how to sing in a choir learn so much more than good vocal technique and music literacy, and the opportunity to experience the unparalleled joy of singing with others – all truly profound reasons to participate in a choir, on their own. They learn perseverance – the value of slow and patient work towards a distant goal, how to subvert the ego and work with others as part of team (seriously, not always an easy task) to accomplish something greater than any of them could accomplish individually. They learn how to honor a commitment they have made – a promise they have made to themselves and others – even when right now, they don’t particularly feel like dragging themselves to yet another rehearsal, meeting, or performance.
In the end – in addition to acquiring musical knowledge and skills – children who sing in a choir like NCC experience a community that serves as a model for a peaceful and joyful co-existence with others throughout their lives.
Hats off everyone, to Dr. Bridges and her amazing staff. Thank you, Nashville Children’s Choir.