The Power of Music Education: Appalachian Children’s Chorus

By Audrey Pitonak-Goff

As the Appalachian Children’s Chorus (ACC) approaches its 30th
anniversary, the organization’s leadership has been reflecting on not only where
the nonprofit music education organization has been but where it is going. The ACC’s
mission is to provide artistic excellence, a quality music education and
extraordinary opportunities while creating a positive effect on the lives of
West Virginia’s youth. The children study and perform a variety of music from
simple unison folk songs to a more challenging classical and multi-cultural
repertoire. Masterpieces of music from all styles and periods form the
foundation for musical learning and the basis for the curriculum.

Nestled in the heart of the Appalachian Mountain range lies the
birthplace of the ACC, which began in 1990 with the fundamental desire to provide
a community-based children’s chorus and opportunities for children to
experience music in unusual and rare ways. The choir began under the direction
of Selina Midkiff as the University of Charleston Children’s Chorus. Its
initial membership of 12 children started a tradition of a solid music
education, disciplined environment and community involvement that has today
merited the organization with many awards and numerous opportunities to perform
in a whole plethora of musical events.

Photo by Steve Payne.

In 1996, the chorus changed its name to the Appalachian Children’s
Chorus to better represent the regional nature of the choir. Its membership has
drawn from 14 counties in West Virginia and as far away as Ohio. In 2003, the ACC
was named the official children’s chorus of West Virginia by then Governor Bob
Wise and Secretary of State Joe Manchin. The chorus was named the Ambassadors
of Music for West Virginia by Governor Joe Manchin in 2006 for representing West
Virginia to the nation and the world. The choir has performed for governors,
presidents and other heads of state and has put on three performances at
Carnegie Hall in New York and nine in international cathedrals.

Looking forward, the ACC will be implementing a new program called the
ACC Academy at Mary C. Snow West Side (MCSWS) Elementary School as well as a
homeschool choir. The ACC Academy’s after-school pilot program will meet at MCSWS and work
in partnership with the school to create a series of two, eight-week choir
classes, bringing music and singing to economically disadvantaged children in
Charleston.

“ACC
is a special organization to so many children and families in West Virginia,”
says Midkiff, founding and artistic director of the ACC. “We never turn away a
child because of financial constraints. In fact, 100 percent of our choristers
receive some sort of financial assistance. We continue to be deeply
appreciative of the community that attends our events and supports us so
generously.”

While
supporting the school curriculum with music theory and proper singing
techniques, the program will foster the personal and social growth of the
participants, promoting their sense of self-esteem, accomplishment and pride in
a nurturing, team-oriented environment.

With the number of students being educated at
home continuing to grow, the ACC has decided to offer two, eight-week homeschool
choirs, one in the fall of 2019 and one in the spring of 2020. Along with
learning repertoire, the students will gain knowledge of good singing
techniques as well as foundational music theory. The homeschool and ACC Academy
choirs will be included in the annual Christmas and spring concerts.

Photo by Tigra Yang.

On a broader scale, the ACC hosts a national children’s choir festival,
the Appalachian Festival of Young Voices (AFYV) every other year. A celebration
of folk music in mountain tradition, the next AFYV is schedule for June 2020,
and choirs from across the U.S. will come to Charleston for four days to delve
deeply into and experience firsthand the Appalachian culture while working with
a world-renowned conductor.

The ACC has meant so much to so many over the course of its 30 years.

“I am proud I was part of something wonderful that is working to make
this world a little better one song at a time,” says Sarah Whiteside, an ACC
graduate who went on to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I
use the values the ACC instilled in me every day—determination, perfection and
excellence.”

Without a doubt, the relationships, music education and skills the ACC offers
continue to change lives and positively impact West Virginia communities.

About the Author

Audrey Pitonak-Goff serves as the marketing and development director for the Appalachian Children’s Chorus. She holds an MBA with a focus in management from Grand Valley State University and has experience in both nonprofit and for-profit companies and all levels of education. She has acquired a unique global perspective having lived and worked around the world for seven years before settling in Charleston, WV, in 2006.

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