Written By Chris Hari |Photographed By Bruce Hari
Every Monday night for an hour and a half, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is alive with the sounds of music. It is Athens Area Children’s Choir practice time and the young choral group takes it very seriously. They sing their hearts out striving for perfect harmony. Not a soul is pretending to sing. Directed by Ellen Kimball, with piano accompaniment provided by Tennessee Wesleyan music major Tristen Rowland, this choir excels and their bookings are increasing all the time.
Actually, this is the second version of the Athens Area Children’s Choir. The first was started by Ellen Kimball and Kay Simmons in the mid-nineties. Both had musically gifted children and Athens had no choir for children. They took their children to Knoxville to audition for the Knoxville Children’s Choir and all of them made it. Before they started Ellen and Kay, both working moms, were thinking that was going to be a LOT of driving, and why not start their own choir. So with a little help and guidelines from the Knoxville Choir, they began a journey that would thrive for several years. Kay directed and Ellen played the piano for 35 to 40 children grades 4-9. Says Ellen, “Those were great years for the choir. We had exceptionally talented kids who were eager to sing.”
Choir leadership changed over time and by the early 2000’s the AACC was no longer operating. However, one choir member never forgot how wonderful it was to be a part of such a great choir. Lauren Brown Shepherd had the chance to revive the children’s choir when she became the Executive Director of the Athens Area Council for the Arts. Lauren felt that being a member of the choir had been life-changing for her and she wanted children of this era to be able to have the same opportunity.
Today’s choir is beginning its second year with 26 very enthusiastic young members. To become a member you must first audition, which makes it an honor to be able to participate. According to Ellen, “these kids are ‘sponges.’ They learn music so quickly and are talented, smart, and ready to sing. The choir is learning many genres of music such as classical, spirituals, Broadway show tunes, pop, and they are even singing in different languages.”
The choir went to the Biltmore on November 26 to perform during their very popular Candlelight Tour. There they performed five times, 30 minutes each, from 5:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. Biltmore has required that all music performed must have been written before 1940. They sang at the tree lighting at Old Fashioned Downtown Christmas on Friday, November 17, and on December 10 at the Sunday performance of Christmas and All That Jazz at the Arts Center.