The flood’s coming Sunday, ready or not.
We’ve been following the San Diego Children’s Choir as it prepares to perform the story of Noah and the ark in an opera this weekend called “Noye’s Fludde,” by composer Benjamin Britten. They only get to practice in Symphony Hall on the day of their performance.
It’s a chaotic thing to organize 250-some kids from all over the county, and all of the elements to mount a giant production in one of the biggest halls in town, on an $18,000 budget.
So amidst the excitement, we’ve seen quite a few crossed fingers and expressions of “I guess we’ll see” in the weeks leading up to this point.
There’s a lot to do to get to Sunday. Here are a few of the logistical beasts the choir’s leaders and parent volunteers must wrangle:
Transforming Kids into Animals and Birds
One afternoon last month, kids swarmed craft tables holding multi-colored feathers, plastic jewels and sequins shaped like flowers and butterflies. Parents helped them use glue guns to make masks of zebras, giraffes, bison, pigs, bears, lions and birds. Fifteen-year-old Walker Hewitt glued a trunk to an elephant face and said making the mask himself will help him better connect to his character in the performance.
Then a hiccup arose: The air conditioning unit at the choir’s rehearsal space began blowing hot air instead of cold. Within minutes the room filled with dozens of kids had risen to 77 degrees. It bothered the parent volunteers more than the kids.
But the kids were feeling the heat in different ways.
To squeeze in as much practice as possible, the first- and second-graders were instructed to sing while crafting. It’s a complicated task for young minds, and many of the kids’ lips stopped moving once they reached the craft station. One girl forgot completely to sing and cried out “They have lavender!” when she spied a light-purple feather.
At those rehearsals a few weeks ago, the kids realized how many song lyrics and notes they still have to learn, said one of the choir’s key directors, Margie Orem.
“It was really great, because the realization was either ‘Oh my goodness this is really hard, I am going to have to work,’ or ‘Oh I have been working, I can do this. It’s going to be a lot of fun,’” Orem said. “Both things are really positive.”
Building the Ark
In the story, Noah’s wife and gossipy neighbors mock him for building a giant boat. He believes God tells him to build it to save his family and all of the species of animals from a giant storm sent to repay humanity for living wickedly.
In the opera, the ark gets constructed on stage. A middle-school shop teacher enlisted his woodworking students to build a moveable ark in the parking lot at Warren-Walker Middle School in Mission Valley.
|Photo courtesy of San Diego Children’s Choir/Michael Morgan|
But the kids in the choir won’t get to practice with the ark — navigating their choreography, singing while working around a giant prop — on the stage of Symphony Hall until this weekend, the day of the performance. That’s got some people stressed out.
“We won’t even know if they’ll fit ‘til the day of,” said pianist Linda Lungren.
Getting Copyright Permissions
As we learned in a day on the job with the San Diego Symphony’s fulltime librarian, it can take mountains of paperwork to negotiate to perform pieces of music.
In the choir’s case, one of the staff just had to figure it out on her own. They had to send Britten’s publisher a letter about the choir and some examples of music it has performed. The composer’s estate wants to make sure they would honor the intent of the piece.
There are rules about how many photocopies you can make of the music. Sometimes they send pieces in the mail and you have just a few days to make whatever copies you need and then you must return them. You pay different rates depending whether you’re going to record and videotape the performance.
Traversing San Diego County
The Children’s Choir takes rehearsals to the corners of the county to connect with as many neighborhoods as possible. They have five different places where rehearsals happen every week — Allied Gardens, Mira Mesa, Hillcrest, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe. There, smaller groups of kids meet and learn the songs. Then they come together, all 250-some, for the performances.
Plus, this year the choir added four “neighborhood choirs” that meet at low-income apartment complexes and community centers in Imperial Beach, City Heights and National City. The choir fundraises so the kids in those choirs don’t have to pay tuition, which starts at $540 a year for the youngest kids and increases from there. The neighborhood choirs will be busing in to join the rest of the kids for the performance, and their parents get free tickets to the show.
But the model that lends itself to getting all sorts of different kids involved means they’re not used to singing this piece all together. It’s yet another of the pieces that won’t really be seen until the day before the show.
The overall hope is to tell the story clearly, to convey its emotion and hope, said Children’s Choir CEO Donna Icenhower. The audience gets to sing during three songs in the show, too, which she said she hopes sparks a sense of unity with the performers.
“When you walk away you feel alive,” she said.
Choir photos by Allie Daugherty
Catch up on our Embedded series: Learn about why Icenhower picked this piece and what San Diego Opera director Ian Campbell would be watching for as the performance nears. Stay tuned for more in the series this week.
San Diego Children’s Choir presents “Noye’s Fludde” by Benjamin Britten at Copley Symphony Hall downtown on June 3 at 3 p.m. Find ticket information here or by calling 619.235.0804.