VANCOUVER — The doors aren’t yet open at the New Hope Church, across the street from Hough Elementary School in Vancouver, but it’s a nice November day and a small group of parents and children are waiting patiently for their Glee choral group director to arrive.
On the steps of the church, Shiloe Childress waits with her eight-year-old daughter, Bridgetdawn.
The Glee choral group, funded by the nonprofit Hough Foundation and open to Hough Elementary students as well as homeschooled children in the Hough neighborhood, Childress says, is an inclusive, diverse place where youngsters like Bridgetdawn can build confidence in their ability to sing alone and perform in front of an audience.
“It’s a fun group and most of the kids who are here actually want to be here,” Childress says. “That makes a difference. They want to be here, so they enjoy being here and they really work hard.”
Open to children in grades second through fifth, the young Glee group is more than just a place to sing and dance, says the group’s choral director, Dr. Anson Service. A psychotherapist and clinical director at Adventure Learning and Assessment, an integrative mental health center in Vancouver, Service also is the author of several mental health-related and parenting books, including The Littlest Acorn, a children’s book that speaks to each child’s ability to find inner strength in the midst of feeling powerless and hopeless.
Inside the New Hope Church, which has donated its space for the Hough students’ Glee choral group to rehearse twice a week throughout the school year, Service seems to bring his professional wisdom out in a multitude of tiny ways, teaching the children to sing and dance, but also, he says, “how to roll with the punches.”
For instance, when an adult volunteer trips over an electrical power strip, shutting the music off temporarily during one number, the group of children hesitate and Service uses the moment to teach resilience.
“What do we do if this happens during a performance?” he asks the group of about 40 elementary schoolers. “Do we stop or keep going?”
“Keep going!” the children say together, giggling.
“Yes! We keep singing,” Service says. “Once, when the disc slipped, I listened and got us back on track. Just keep going and we’ll get back on track if this happens when we’re performing.”
And resilience isn’t the only thing this Glee group is teaching the children. Being a part of Glee also builds leadership skills, improves grades, teaches cooperation and increases self-confidence.
“The kids are supposed to be in charge,” Service explains, adding that the children in his Glee group do everything from picking the music to running the soundboard at the performances. “It really teaches them good leadership skills.”
What’s more, the musical program also is linked to better performance during the school days.
The Hough Foundation, established by Vancouver businessman and former Hough Elementary School student Paul Christensen in 1992 to help enhance the lives of children living in Vancouver’s Hough neighborhood, reports that children who participate in the Foundation’s extracurricular musical programs, which include Glee as well as Escola de Samba, a Brazilian-style drumming group, “tend to have improved grades and school attendance.”
On its website, the Foundation says music education “helps prepare the brain for math and literacy” and that being a part of the Glee group “enables students to perform on stage in front of their school community, their families, as well as out in the community. These performances bolster self-pride and esteem, helping students to feel a strong connection to their school and community at large.”
Jill Campbell, executive director of the Hough Foundation, says there is a growing body of research-based evidence showing that music helps develop the brain’s neurotransmitters, helping children develop faster and strengthening their math skills.
“Being a part of the music program also helps develop community,” Campbell adds. “And for kids who aren’t musically inclined, we’re also hoping to have (an enrichment class) to teach skills like how to do soundboards and lighting, so they can still be around music even if they don’t want to sing or dance.”
Because Christensen, the Foundation’s benefactor, funds Campbell’s position, all of the money the Foundation raises through its fundraising efforts goes directly to programs designed to enrich the teachers, students, parents and Hough Elementary community. This year, the Foundation is helping the musical programs provide uniforms for the children. When she asked Service if he wanted choir robes, he surprised her by asking for something a little more unique.
“He wanted cowboy hats!” Campbell says. “And last year they were zombies.”
That’s because Service’s Glee group isn’t your typical choir. Last year, the children dressed as zombies because they were doing a mash-up of Michael Jackson songs, including the song “Thriller,” which featured zombies in its iconic video. This year, the group has a country theme and includes songs like “Life is a Highway” and “My Wish for you” by Rascal Flatts.
Every student will have a chance to sing a solo part in this group and Service says he’s seen children come into Glee extremely shy and not wanting to sing alone to being excited about getting on a stage and performing a solo in front of hundreds of people.
“You can see them changing, growing more confident,” Service says.
For the kids in Glee, however, the important life lessons are just a side benefit. For them, the most important part about Glee is how it makes them feel.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says 10-year-old Ivy Hisch. “We do mash-ups and fun music. That’s my favorite part.”
“It’s not like other choirs,” chimes in Emma Anderson, also 10 years old. “The music is different … and it’s fun.”
Maybe it’s because the kids are having so much fun, or maybe it’s the catchy pop music combined with the sheer adorableness of Service’s Glee students, but something about the choral group is a crowd-pleaser. At a choir festival last February, Service says his Glee kids were offered the coveted last slot, as the headliners of the show.
“They blew it away,” Service says. “We’re just really proud of how good they are.”
To see the Glee choral group in action, head out to one of their upcoming performances:
The Glee group will perform at this event, which runs from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27 at the Hilton in Vancouver, but Service does not yet know which day/time the group will perform. Check the Festival of Trees schedule later in the month for more information.
The group will perform at 5 p.m., Nov. 11, at the tree lighting ceremony, held at the Hilton hotel at 301 W. 6th St., in Vancouver.
The Glee choral group and Escola de Samba, a Brazilian-inspired drumming group, will perform at 6 p.m., Dec. 13, at Hough Elementary School, 1900 Daniels St., Vancouver.
This event takes place in February or March at Skyview High School, at 1300 N.W. 139th St., in Vancouver, but Service says the actual time and date has not yet been decided.