Pacific Children's Choir gives tour of world in song

That magical quality will be well represented when the members of the Pacific Children's Choir raise their voices in songs from around the world at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Saturday, May 31, and Sunday, June 1.

Queen Anne's Mary Sherhart, known for her Balkan Cabaret and New Land Choir, will be guest-conducting the Eastern European portion of the choir's 10th Annual Spring Concert. Founder and director Susan Senft and assistant conductor Mary K. McNeill will conduct the youngsters as they perform music from other lands.

The youngsters, age 6 to 20, have an uncanny mastery of the almost piercing sound of the music of Macedonia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Croatia. Senft acknowledges that singing Balkan tunes is fun for the choir members but totally different from their Western musical training. She credits Sherhart's instruction for the youngsters', and the directors', command of this foreign sound.

"At first we couldn't teach this stuff, but after Mary had been there awhile, we got it," Senft says. Sherhart notes that Senft's teaching methods prepared the students so they are easy to work with.

"They were so ready. They had such good instruction in musicality. The standards expected of them are so high - it's what distinguishes Pacifica from other choirs," Sherhart says.

Sherhart also said the youngest choir members just seem to absorb this style of singing. Pacifica singers are given a line-by-line translation of the songs into English so they know what they are singing about. The Eastern European songs are rich with emotion, something the older Pacifica singers are trained in putting into their music.

"The two older groups understand the differ-ence between singing red and singing blue," Senft said. "Red is hot and blue is more mellow."

The men's Eastern European songs typically have a strong, masculine edge, which Senft says wasn't something the boys in the choir were accustomed to. "Nobody had given them permission to be masculine," Senft says. "Mary came in and said, 'Pump it up, boys.' They were embarrassed, shy, at first."

Shy no longer, the older boys in Pacifica stepped without hesitation into their masculine roles for a performance on Saturday, May 24, at the Northwest Folklife Festival. To Sherhart, that's part of the value of Pacifica. "You see their self-esteem being built in the choir," Sherhart says.

Founded in 1993, Pacifica's mission is to provide quality music instruction to attain the highest level of artistic excellence in choral music performance. Senft says that goal is for young-sters to develop their music skills and attain an appreciation of music that will stay with them for their entire lives.

Members pay tuition, although some scholarships are available. The choir members are broken into age groups going all the way to high school and college students. From age 4 to 7, no audition is required. Although auditions are mandatory later, Senft says they are done privately, and, if the child is still having a case of nerves, she can see through it to the underlying ability.

"Kids come in and they can hardly sing for me, but if I hear there's a voice there, I'll take them," Senft said.

Pacifica members often continue with the group for years. One sophomore student has continued to study with Senft since beginning at age 4 with the church choir that Senft directs.

"Mary, my assistant conductor, jokes that 'this is the choir that won't go away," Senft says.

Pacifica Children's Chorus, Treble Choirs and Chamber Singers will perform at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1729 Harvard Ave. (corner of Howell Street) on Capitol Hill, on Saturday, May 31, and Sunday, June 1, at 3 p.m. Advance tickets: $6-$10; call 527-9095. Tickets at the door: $7-$11. For more information on Pacifica Children's Chorus, go online to

Editor Maggie Larrick can be reached at
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