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Choirs from 11 high schools along the Wasatch Front assembled in the de Jong Concert Hall at BYU Thursday afternoon to perform for each other and receive helpful suggestions from the guest conductor of the National Choral Festival.

The event is the ninth annual such gathering, co-sponsored by the Tabernacle Choir and Brigham Young University. According to Donald Ripplinger, associate Tabernacle Choir conductor and chairman of the festival, it's all part of an effort to involve the Tabernacle Choir in mainstream choral music in America. "We try to make it an educational experience, more than anything else," he said.This year, the 210-voice festival choir made up of students from Kearns, American Fork and Bingham high schools is singing under the baton of Margaret Hawkins, conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony, who taught high school for six years before going to the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music.

Hawkins will conduct the festival choir in a final concert Saturday evening at 7:30 in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Admission is free. Choir students began learning the 16-18 pieces of new music for the choral festival under their own directors, Merilee Webb Moran, Lois J. Johnson and Jolene Gailey.

Students in the Festival Choir sat among members of the Tabernacle Choir at its regular Thursday evening rehearsal, singing with them "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Hallelujah!" from Handel's "Messiah," and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Hawkins will be guest conductor for the Tabernacle Choir broadcast Sunday morning, to which students from the three high school choirs have been invited as audience.

Ripplinger said he and conductor Jerold Ottley were looking for a way to involve the Tabernacle Choir in the choral music that's being sung throughout America, "and we've been able to use the prestige and power of the choir to do this kind of thing."

Although they don't make much fuss about it, the National Choral Festival has been combining the expertise of the choir with an educational experience for high school choirs for nearly a decade, bringing in some of the best choral people in the country. Past conductors have included Albert McNeil, Jester Hairston, Weston Noble, Norman Luboff, and Lee Kjelson. Next year's festival, with Sir David Wilcox as guest conductor, is already sold out, Ripplinger said, and applications have been received from schools for 1991.