Washington, 17 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The founder and artistic director of an international children's choir says listening to children from all over the world raise their voices in song is one of the most beautiful ways to usher in the holiday season.
Sondra Harnes of the World Children's Choir told RFE/RL that she founded the international choir nine years ago after hearing the Russian Red Army Chorus sing "God Bless America" at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
Harnes explains: "The faces of the performers and also the expressions on the faces of the American audience members were just incredible -- it was like watching an awe-inspiring moment .... And at that moment, I was so excited, I had to do something to contribute to world peace."
Harnes says the choir, which is a U.S.-based non-profit organization, is made up of children of many nationalities, races and religions -- all who live either permanently or part of the time in the United States. The headquarters for the choir is located in a suburb of Washington.
Harnes says that among the many nationalities represented at one time or another on the choir are Russian, American, Polish, Latvian, Belgian, Czech and Spanish.
According to Harnes, the choir actively promotes children's causes and environmentalism. She says it also strives to foster international understanding and friendship by bringing together children of diverse cultures and countries to learn to sing beautifully and artistically.
Harnes says each child is given professional vocal training in repertoires from such composers as Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart. Also included in the training are international folk songs sung in many different languages; inspirational songs of healing; operettas, and choreographed show tunes. Any child who wants to sing can join the choir, says Harnes.
The choir rehearses and performs on a year-round schedule, although many of their performances are done in December around the time of the Christian and Jewish holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah.
Harnes says the choir has sung at many prestigious events, including ones at the White House. The choir has also released two compact discs (CD) of their music. The choir's latest CD, called "For the Beauty of the Earth," focuses on raising environmental awareness and also raises money directly for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) through a contribution by the choir of a portion of the sale price.
Alexandra Draggeim, age 10, says she loves singing with the choir. Draggeim was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and moved to the U.S. one year ago with her parents.
Draggeim told RFE/RL she has enjoyed making friends with children of different nationalities and learning about other cultures. The choir's most recent performance, she says, was to the Central American children who were victims of the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch.
Draggeim says singing in the choir has even helped improve her English, even though many of the songs they learn are in Latin, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Polish, French, Czech and Ukrainian.
Clancy Cox, age 16, says she also enjoys singing in the choir.
Says Cox: "It makes me happy to think that every time someone hears the World Children's Choir, they may be touched and infused with a hope for a peaceful future."
The parents of the children also say it is a wonderful way for their kids to learn about various nations and cultures, and understand that people really aren't all that different despite their backgrounds.
Vibe Christensen says that the experience for her two children -- Ieva, age 7 and Johan age 4 -- has been profound. Christensen explains: "For my two children that come from a foreign country (Latvia), it is a great experience to be part of a choir that performs songs in different languages. The joy of singing extends beyond the weekly lessons. The children particularly enjoy to perform at concerts where they are part of the entire choir with children of all ages."
Harnes says the purpose of the choir is to help all children pursue their dreams and realize that miracles can happen.
She concludes: "The choir brings children together to sing of a new world -- a world where children are protected from harm, violence and unfair treatment; where children have good health care, nutritious food, safe water and education; and where children have the opportunity to participate in the cultural and artistic life of the community -- a world of love, peace, abundance and beauty for all children."