Boston Globe Article

African Children’s Choir to share the stage with local kids


The African Children’s Choir, a troupe of young singers from Uganda, will break new ground when it appears with singers from the Plymouth elementary schools and the South Shore Conservatory in the next week.

“It’s something brand new we’re doing here,” said Kathy McMinn, director of children’s choruses for the Plymouth schools and the conservatory. This will be the first time the African ensemble is sharing the stage with an American children’s chorus.

The goal is to make both local children and their communities “more globally aware,” McMinn said.

The Plymouth chorus will join the visitors for the conclusion of the African Children’s Choir concert at Plymouth North High School on Saturday and the Conservatory chorus at Duxbury’s performing arts center on Monday.

The first African Children’s Choir was formed in 1984 of orphans from a civil war in Uganda. Fund-raising concerts in American churches led to donations that supported the education and other needs of poor and orphaned children in a growing number of African countries. The network of services provided by Music for Life, the choir’s parent organization, continues to be funded by tours of new versions of the African Children’s Choir. The choir currently undertaking a yearlong North American concert tour is known as Choir 40.

Choir 40 consists of eight boys and eight girls from Uganda, ages 8 to 10. The group has made an East Coast tour to Florida, and up north to Maine and maritime provinces in Canada, with a foray as far west as Texas.
Catherine Wade, the choir’s volunteer tour leader and chief chaperone, spoke last week on a bus from New Jersey to a concert in Connecticut. Wade said she became involved with the program when her family in Ontario hosted a choir.

“It’s pretty incredible,” said the 25-year-old Wade, a certified elementary education teacher. “They are really amazing children. It’s been fun to experience things from their eyes” — such as the discovery of a washing machine.

Choir members come from homes of extreme poverty where parents can’t afford to pay for schooling, she said. The children attend a primary school run by the choir, and the organization is committed to cover their education costs through university. Donations from their concerts go to schools, teacher-training programs, and centers with camp programs. “The primary focus is education,” Wade said.

In addition to Uganda, the program now serves children from Kenya, Sudan, South Africa, Rwanda, Ghana, and Nigeria.

The children’s choir performs an 80-minute concert of traditional African and gospel music. Songs familiar to Americans include “This Little Light of Mine,” a gospel by 20th-century composer Harry Dixon Loes; “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” a traditional American spiritual; and “Amazing Grace,” a hymn with lyrics by English clergyman John Newton and sung in America by abolitionists and civil rights activists.

The children sing and dance, Wade said. The group includes five drummers and they have horns to blow in one of the songs.

“They are very talented kids,” Wade said.

McMinn said the local choruses will perform three songs with the African chorus including the South African National Anthem, based largely on the African hymn “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (”God Bless Africa”); “Sing,” written for Queen Elizabeth’s 50th-year jubilee by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Gary Barlow; and “This Little Light of Mine.”

A music teacher at Federal Furnace School, McMinn said the Plymouth chorus consists of 70 students from grades 4 and 5 .

For the Duxbury concert, she combined two South Shore Conservatory ensembles she directs, the Pure Treble Chorus, for grades 2 through 5, and the Pure Harmony Chorus, for grades 6 through 8. Together, the groups have 52 singers.

“Their shirts are all over my living room,” McMinn said from home last week. The T-shirts depict the continents of North America and Africa with music streaming between them.

McMinn said she attended an African Children’s Choir concert some years ago and was “pretty well blown away by these kids,” not only because they were “talented and adorable” but because of what it represented. The concert brochure called for volunteers to work in choir programs in Africa, and McMinn said she went from thinking that was something she couldn’t do to deciding to become a volunteer. For parts of four summers she volunteered at a South African boarding school, traveling to villages to work with choruses, auditioning kids, and training the staff.

“These kids become the ambassadors for other children and people of Africa,” she said. They help audiences “to recognize their beauty and their potential and their dignity” of those who come from poor conditions and sometimes devastated lives.

The children who are educated by the African Children’s Choir program go to university and “become the attorneys, doctors, teachers, and other professionals of a re-forming Africa,” she said.

And when these ambassadors of hope take the stage in Plymouth and Duxbury, local children will add their voices to that message