Joyful noise 

African Children's Choir sings out in Missoula

One of two African Children’s Choirs currently touring the U.S. is coming to Missoula and Hamilton this week. The choir has toured the U.K. and North America since 1984, when choir founder and current director Ray Barnett organized the first African Children’s Choir. Children in the choir are selected annually from among thousands of orphans and disadvantaged children in Africa. The choir coming to Missoula is the 24th of its kind.

Tina Sipp, choir tour leader, says the music is a mix of upbeat, high-energy, Christian music and traditional ethnic worship music. “It’s a nice blend of both English and African songs accompanied by drums and dancing,” Sipp says. “They wear costumes and it’s very bright, colorful and vivid, in both dancing and costuming.”

Each African Children’s Choir—made up of 24 children between the ages of 7 and 11—tours for one year, says Sipp. The choir averages four performances a week, from small-town churches in the American Midwest to evenings with the National Symphony Orchestra of Belgium at the Royal Albert Hall in London. A high point in the choir’s history came in 1993, when the children were nominated for a Grammy Award under the Best Gospel Choir category.

The choir seeks to raise awareness of the needs of destitute and orphaned children in Africa, and to raise funds for the continued expansion of the African Children’s Choir school program—an international educational effort that provides education and training for the choir children when they return to their native countries. By touring with the choir, each child has his or her education paid for through the university level, and none of the children do more than one tour.

“Once they’ve done their tour,” Sipp says, “they go back and get into a regular school program and move on to secondary school and hopefully college. Our commitment for them is to finance their education.”

The children would never be able to go to school back in Africa if it weren’t for the tour, says Sipp, since most have lost one or both parents to war, poverty or disease, and circumstances in their countries are such that education is almost a luxury rather than a given. Several of the children singing in the choir coming to Missoula lost family members in the Rwanda genocide in 1994.

The African Children’s Choir performs on Sunday, Aug. 1, at 8:30 AM and 10:30 AM at the Christian Life Center in Missoula, at 7 PM at Hamilton High School, and on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at St. Patrick Hospital’s Auditorium at 7 PM.

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