Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC), led by Artistic Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz and considered one of the world’s leading children’s choirs, has launched its first-ever comprehensive online music education program for its more than 400 choristers ranging from ages 8 to 18. Created in response to the global pandemic and the need to shelter at home, the program helps create a sense of normalcy and community for the young choristers while enabling them to continue to learn and develop their musical skills and musicianship.
LACC’s new online asynchronous teaching portal, hosted on the website/app platform Seesaw (https://web.seesaw.me), was created in just a few short weeks under Malvar-Ruiz’s leadership. A simple and fun interface, it allows for direct communication between teachers, conductors and choristers by using a variety of media, including simple texts, annotated PDFs, sound files and videos. Lessons, rehearsal and practice plans, complementary materials, music tracks, warm up instructions and much more – all produced by LACC’s own artistic staff – are available through the portal to the young singers, who will work through the sequential material at their own pace and upload videos of themselves singing lessons. Their teachers will review the videos and provide each singer with confidential feedback on a one-on-one basis. To augment the individual online learning experience, LACC will also host regular sectional meetings for the choristers and their conductors on Zoom, during which the singers can connect with each other and share their thoughts about the music they are studying.
“Although the chorus is unable to gather together to rehearse in person during this health crisis, everyone at LACC felt it was imperative to devise a meaningful way for the LACC community to stay connected,” says Marlvar-Ruiz. “I am incredibly proud of LACC’s dedicated and talented staff for stepping up to make it possible to create this remote learning program and to get it up and running in such a short period of time. It has been a monumental task requiring an extraordinary amount of work.”
Marlvar-Ruiz notes that the conductors, teachers and accompanists had to plan and record every single lesson for the remainder of the season and prep all of the ancillary materials to go with them, including lesson plans for each of LACC’s separate choirs – Concert Choir, Chamber Singers, Chorale (an SATB ensemble), Young Men’s Ensemble, Intermediate Choir, Apprentice Choir and Preparatory Choir. Additionally, LACC offers seven different levels of musicianship classes, and each level has multiple sub-groups that include from 5 to 15 students. So teachers were asked to prepare a different set of lesson plans and musicianship lessons for each sub-group.
Adding to the challenges, LACC staff members, who have varying degrees of technological skills, had to be trained on every aspect of Seesaw and how to produce materials for the portal. “It was incredible how quickly everyone mastered the technology,” adds Malvar-Ruiz.
LACC artistic staff members providing learning content for the portal, in addition to Malvar-Ruiz, include Associate Artistic Director Mandy Brigham; Young Men’s Ensemble Director Dr. Steven Kronauer; Apprentice Choir Director Eric Lifland, who trained the staff in how to use Seesaw; Principal Pianist Twyla Meyer; pianists Jackie Koo and Dr. Mitsuko Morikawa; vocal coaches Wendy Caldwell, Sarah Reynolds and Lori Stinson; and music education staff members Lissie Quishenberry and Gail Homan. Also contributing to the success of the project were Executive Director Shawn Ingram; Chorus Manager Ann Giesler; associate chorus managers Kendra Schmidt and Deborah Stark; and administrative staff members Julie Larson, Maria Nazario, Jared Clark, Sara Chervin and Lisa Larson.
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, widely recognized for its agile bel canto sound and exceptional artistry, has been lauded as “hauntingly beautiful” (Los Angeles Times), “astonishingly polished” (Performances Magazine) and “one of the world’s foremost children’s choirs” (Pasadena Star News). Founded in 1986 and currently in its 34th season, LACC presents its own concerts and regularly performs with such organizations as LA Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale. The Chorus has seven choirs – Concert Choir, Chamber Singers, Chorale (an SATB ensemble), Young Men’s Ensemble, Intermediate Choir, Apprentice Choir and Preparatory Choir – and a First Experiences in Singing program and First Experiences in Choral Singing Ensemble for 6-8-year-olds. LACC, recipient of Chorus America’s 2014 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, tours nationally and internationally. The subject of five documentary films, including the Oscar-winning Sing!, LACC has appeared on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” PBS’s “Great Performances,” BBC Radio, Public Radio International’s “From the Top” and is featured on John Williams’ latest recording, John Williams & Steven Spielberg: The Ultimate Collection.
For information on LACC, please visit www.lachildrenschorus.org.