It's early Tuesday, and every seat is occupied. The small rehearsal space at Aldersgate United Methodist Church is a veritable sea of children in khaki and green. Their youthful singing rings through the room and out into the empty halls. At the baton, Linda Bradberry, director of the Augusta Children's Chorale, silently encourages and instructs, communicating through a complex series of reassuring smiles and nods as her hands punctuate each beat, break and breath in the music.
Midway through the musical retelling of the biblical Daniel's feline woes, Ms. Bradberry stops the choir and studies the sheet music in front of her. The 50 young singers, in defiance of nature and logic, fall silent and still.
There is none of the chatter or seat-squirming that might be expected when dozens of teens and pre-teens are together. For 90 minutes each week, these young musicians' concentration is focused on one thing -- living up to Ms. Bradberry's high standards.
"I don't know what her secret is," said Susan Gober, whose daughter Allison has been in the group for four years. "It's not like she's mean. There's just something about her that demands respect, and so the kids give it to her."
Formed in 1991, the Augusta Children's Chorale was originally associated with a fine-arts school run by First Baptist Church. When Ms. Bradberry was asked to lead the new group, she agreed -- with one condition.
"I said I would do it but that I didn't want to teach them to sing," she explained. "I wanted them to come ready to go. So I asked them to audition."
From that first group of 50 applicants, 20 were chosen. The chorale now has 50 members and a training choir of 25 younger singers. Performers range from fourth-graders to high school sophomores. Auditions are held each spring.
The chorale has gained attention well beyond Augusta. In the past few years, the group has performed as far away as Italy and Germany. At the end of March they will sing in the mecca of live music, New York's Carnegie Hall.
Ms. Bradberry said the pieces the group has been asked to sing at Carnegie Hall will challenge them musically. "It stretches way beyond what we usually do."
Ms. Bradberry works hard to maintain the group's quality. This includes working to keep her singers' voices healthy and continually finding music that is both appropriate and engaging.
"Text is important," she said. "I'm not going to have them do anything that's trite. Then, of course, I'm also concerned with how does a piece sound and are they going to love how it sounds and feels."
Even to the most casual observer, the skill and dedication poured into these singers' performance is obvious. There is no question that they love what they do. But the rewards of performing with the chorale seem to extend well beyond the applause that invariably concludes the group's performances.
"I know that behavior-wise, the chorale has taught me when to cut up and when not to cut up," said Katy Boatman, 13. "That's something I can take with me to school now."
Amy Hennessy has seen differences in her daughter Caitlin, even when she isn't standing on the risers with the group.
"Certainly, her understanding of music and technique has improved," she said. "It's also helped Caitlin feel good about herself and see and work with things in a whole new way. It's absolutely wonderful. Linda is just phenomenal."
Ms. Gober said that the chorale leaves an impression with audiences, and not just because of its highly polished vocal performances.
"Linda not only teaches them to sing. She teaches them to be good people," she explained. "So everywhere they go, they make a good impression because of that."
The singers gain inspiration as well as education from Ms. Bradberry.
"I really like her a lot," Dominic Mazzoli said. "I think she teaches us a lot over the years. We really get to progress as the music gets harder, and I like that."
The feeling, as far as Ms. Bradberry is concerned, is mutual.
"I look forward to Tuesday afternoons more than anything during the week," she said. "It's a joy to be there."
For more information about the Augusta Children's Chorale, call 826-4718.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626.
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