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Tuning in kids – Diversity a goal

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jarvis Leigh knows what it’s like to need some harmony.

Growing up in a Baltimore neighborhood where some of his friends sold drugs and joined gangs, Leigh found discipline, fellowship and inspiration in all-black boys choir.

Now, he hopes to help youngsters in Charlotte discover the same sense of direction in music.

“I think music gives children a strong foundation by which they can do anything they want to do,” says Leigh, vice president for operations at The Wellness Plan and board chairman for the Charlotte Children’s Choir. “It gives them confidence. It challenges them. And they can see success at the end of that challenge.”

To help the 16-year-old group sustain itself, Leigh will focus his efforts on building its $1,000 endowment through planned giving and major gifts.

“That has been one of the areas where we have been the weakest,” he says.

Formed in 1986 by Elizabeth Kimble as a community children’s choir housed at Queens College, the choir became a separate nonprofit in 1989 and, two years later, hired its current artistic director, Sandy Holland.

The choir also moved off the Queens campus into rented rehearsal space. For the past three years, it has rehearsed at Providence Baptist Church.

Holland also has worked to reach minorities and disadvantaged children.

Minorities now represent one of every four children in the group’s five choirs, which have grown to 220 children this year from 130 in 1998.

Singers range from eight years old to 18. The oldest group, a Bella Voce Ensemble, consists of girls only, and the choir hopes to raise enough money to begin a master-singers group for young men.

Each summer, based on recommendations by music professionals at local schools and churches in five counties in the Charlotte metro area that includes South Carolina, the choir holds a week-long camp for 150 children.

Students then can audition for the choir, which begins its rehearsal schedule in late August, with performances in the fall and spring.

The choir, which has offices uptown in space donated by Bank of America, will hold its fall concert Nov. 17 at First United Methodist Church uptown.

The choir generates revenue from tuition, with scholarships available, and from ticket sales, program advertising, grants and donations. The choir this year is providing scholarships for 12 children.

The choir visited France this summer, released a compact disc of lullabies two years ago with Presbyterian Hemby Children’s Hospital and performed with folksinger Judy Collins in 1996 in an event broadcast each Christmas by the A&E television network.

The choir plans to help boost revenue through a concert package, says Nancina Pope, the group’s managing director.

“Because we’re a small arts organization, it’s harder for us to get attention,” she says. “But once you hear the choir, you’re hooked.”

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