Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
October 21, 2000 - Issue 21

Cherokee Children's Choir a Crowd Pleaser

TAHLEQUAH -- The Cherokee National Choir members are whispering, laughing and playfully punching one another, like a typical crew of youngsters. "Theyíre a pretty lively bunch," says Jan Ballou, looking out at her group of about 25 chatting Cherokee children. The illusion of idle playfulness ends just a few seconds later, when the children break into song.

"They sound like little Cherokee angels," says Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. "I drop by their rehearsals some evenings and it just lifts my spirits to see these kids proudly singing traditional Cherokee songs."

The Cherokee National Choir is made up of children between fifth and eighth grade from all over the Cherokee Nation. In just their first year, theyíve performed at the Cherokee National Holiday and tribal council meetings. They are currently rehearsing for a Christmas program, which they plan to perform three times before the end of the year.

"All the kids can really sing," said Jamie Geneva, who organizes the choir. "But the kids donít just have to learn the music, they have to learn the words because some of them donít speak Cherokee."

At least not yet. Choir director Jan Ballou thinks that singing helps the kids become bilingual. "Really, this is a great way of preserving the language because itís easier for them to learn through music," said Ballew.

Haley Noe, a ten year old from Leach, is one of the choir members who is mastering the music and the language simultaneously. "Iím having to learn the words as we go along," Noe said. "Thatís why I like Beautiful Home. It doesnít have as many words for me to learn."

Tawni Keys, an eleven year old from Tahlequah doesnít have that problem. "I used to only get to sing Cherokee at church," she said. "Now I get to do it here, too."

"My friends donít believe me that Iím in the Cherokee Nation Choir," says John Ross, a ten year old from Tahlequah. "Itís fun getting to go all over the state, singing and getting to make new friends."

Keys agrees. "When we were about to do a concert, some of my friends said they wanted to come and be in it, but they couldnít. It takes a lot of practice. My family is proud of me and they really like it."

Families and friends canít get enough of the Choirís performances, and have snatched up every available copy of a Cherokee gospel CD that features two songs by the group.

"Sometimes the families are like, wow, they canít believe these children are capable of doing something of this magnitude," Ballou said.

For more information about the Cherokee National Choir, contact Jamie Geneva at 696-3390.



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