Mennonite Children's Choir of Winnipeg
The Mennonite Children's Choir of Winnipeg. A 40-voice choir, also known as Winnipeg Mennonite Children's Choir.
The Mennonite Children's Choir of Winnipeg was founded in 1957 under the direction of its conductor, Helen Litz. The choir is made up of girls and boys aged 8 to 16 who have been selected by audition from more than 25 schools and churches in the city. It draws its repertoire from all periods of music, from baroque to contemporary, including German art and folksongs as well as folk music of multilingual origin sung in the original languages.
Helen Litz continued to be its principal conductor and music director in 2004. Karin Redekopp Edwards and Judy Neufeld Urbonas have conducted the choir on numerous occasions. Urbonas became the choir's assistant director in the late 1990s. Guest conductors have included Jester Hairston (1991), Judith Janzen (1995), Gerald Wirth of the Vienna Boys Choir and Henry Leck of the Indianapolis Children's Choir (2002), John Jacobson (2002), Bruce Pullan and Pekka Kostianien (2001), and Doreen Rao. Rachel Hinton accompanied the choir on its 2002 tour.
Broadcasts and Recordings
The Mennonite Children's Choir has been broadcast frequently on regional and national CBC radio and TV. CBC-TV broadcast the choir's production of Hansel and Gretel nationally on Christmas Day 1967. One of the first Canadian ethnic choirs to achieve international recognition, the Mennonite Children's Choir has been broadcast on the BBC and Radio Hilversum. It has recorded for RCA, CBC SM, Choristers Guild, and has several privately produced LPs. It appeared in the 1975 National Film Board film Musicanada. In 1979 the Choristers Guild recorded the Mennonite Children's Choir for its Singing through the Season, and in 1980 Praise Records recorded God Is My Song and Sing for Joy. Paul W. Davis described these recordings as "exquisite and a credit to fine children's choirs" (Worship and Arts, March 1980). S. Bernadelle Mehmert described "the amazing qualities" of Singing through the Season, commenting on "the range of dynamics. Even in pianissimo singing, the tones are well-supported. Very attractive also is the beautiful blend of voices" (Gemshorn, Spring 1980). Many other recordings followed, including the 1992 Canada 125 recording, This Is My Home with Barry Anderson. This recording was provided to all Canadian schools.
Publications and Commissioned Works
The Mennonite Children's Choir has sought to celebrate music of all kinds in its original language and through its concerts and recordings to promote peace and provide goodwill and support to organizations that work towards world peace. Complying with an unwritten tenet of the Mennonite faith which holds that music, as an art, must serve a philanthropic purpose, the Mennonite Children's Choir has sponsored several Save the Children projects with proceeds from its concert tours. "Children Helping Children," a song written in 1987 by Litz and her son Reginald, a former chorister, launched an ongoing World Vision Project for children from its royalties. Also in 1987 the choir commissioned and premiered Esther Wiebe's Psalm 128.
The choir's published musical repertoire also includes In Flanders Fields (with royalties going to Cansave), Children Helping Children (for World Vision), Reaching Out to Give the Master's Touch (for Mother Teresa's Mission), and Courage (for the Children's Cancer Fund). In 1995 the choir commissioned three works for its anniversary celebrations: Snowy Clouds on a Summer Day by Ruth Artman, Sno Wonder by Leonard Ens, and Juventus Vocalis. The world premiere took place with combined choirs in Germany.
In 2002 Litz and instrumentalist Annette Hay wrote and arranged (for choir, flute, oboe, violin, cello, and bass) Dona Nobis Pacem, set to Caccini's melody. This was a 45th anniversary project with royalties supporting the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Project for children. The music was chosen for the Honors Junior High Choir of more than 300 children for the American Choral Directors' National Convention in New York City, and accompanied by Julliard instrumentalists.
Tours and Performances
In response to invitations for concerts and workshops, the Mennonite Children's Choir has travelled to other Canadian and US cities and has competed in various international choral festivals. It has appeared with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir. The choir represented Canada at the 1980 International Society for Music Education (ISME) meeting in Warsaw, and the 1988 ISME world congress in Australia, and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1982 with a performance of Anne of Green Gables. The Mennonite Children's Choir participated in the 1978 Kennedy Center International Youth Choral Festival, the 1984 Dubrovnik Music Festival, the 1984 Toronto International Festival, Expo 86 in Vancouver, and Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia. In 1990 the choir made its debut at Carnegie Hall at the International Children's Choirs in Concert. In 1991 the choir was named first in the Chamber Choir Group (International) at the International Children's Choral Festival in Des Moines, Iowa. The choir also participated in the first International Choral Festival in Atlanta, and the following year in the ISME World Congress in Seoul, Korea. In 1995 the choir toured Germany and Israel and participated in a workshop with the Ankar Children's Choir at the Jerusalem Conservatory. The same year, it performed at the University of Montana International Choral Festival. In 1998 the choir performed at the ISME World Congress in Pretoria, South Africa, which included a performance at the Pretoria Opera House. The same year, the choir exchanged tours and performances with the Drakensburg Boys Choir School and performed with the Tygerberg and Jacaranda children's choirs. In 1999 the choir produced God Through the Ages, inviting other children's and adult choirs, to assist the former Yugoslavia. The following year, the choir performed with Ben Heppner in Kienzl's Der Evangeliman to assist the Mennonite Economic Development Association. It also performed daily at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. In 2001 the choir participated in the World of Children's Choirs and 2001 Voices in Vancouver. The choir performed in 2002 with the First Vienna Boys Choir and at the Children's Choir Festival. The same year, it performed and studied in Salzburg, Hungary, and Italy and participated in the International Festival in Germany. The choir has also participated in the Prairie Choral Festival in Regina and the Kathaumix festival in Powell River. Over the years, the Mennonite Children's Choir has also hosted the Juventus Vocalis of Germany, the Little Eagles of Siberia (1993), and Shchedryk Children's Choir of the Ukraine (1994).
In 1963 the Mennonite Children's Choir won the George S. Mathieson Trophy awarded by the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals (FCMF) and the Manitoba Lieutenant Governor's Trophy for its work at home. The choir placed first in the children's choir class at the 1970 International Tees-side Eisteddfod in England, in two classes at the 1973 International Choral Festival in Montreux including the overall first place, and in two classes at the 1977 International Music Festival, The Hague, and twice it was among the winners at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales, where it performed in 1966, 1970, and 1977. In the 1990s it was recommended to the finals of the CBC Amateur Choirs' Competition and it placed first in the chamber choir category of the International Choral Festival in Des Moines, Iowa in 1991. It received the Canada 125 Award in 1992, the coveted Dr. Leslie Bell Memorial Trophy (Canadian Music Educators' Association) in 1993, the CKJS Talent Award in 1997, the International Peace Gardens Distinguished Choral Award and the Registered Music Teachers' Award in 1998, and the Governor-General's Award in 2000. It has been compared to the renowned Obernkirchen Children's Choir (Vancouver Sun, 12 Apr 1969), and its members have been praised for "a range of dynamics that goes with an incredible ability to spin out a tone with the finesse of an adult artist" (London Free Press, 31 Mar 1970) and its "range of vocal mastery, incredible purity and delicacy of tone, voices reverberating through the hall" (The Times, 2000).