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Kids' tunes transcend international borders

Many foreign dignitaries visiting Salt Lake City -- whether in connection with government, the Olympics, or the LDS Church -- receive a welcome in their own language and a short concert from the International Children's Choir.

Now in its 10th year, the Utah-based International Children's Choir has sung for the Crown Prince of Norway, the Croatian Counsel General, the Salt Lake and Nagano Olympic Committees and scores of other visiting dignitaries. They've been on two European tours, one of which included a gig at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. This month, they will go on a two-week concert tour of Israel and Jordan.Sporting traditional outfits from dozens of countries, the ICC recently welcomed an ambassador and his wife from the Kyrgyz Republic in the former Soviet Union. Speaking in unison, the choir said: "The International Children's Choir welcomes you to Utah. We send our love to the children of the Kyrgyz Republic."

Then 10-year-old choir member Vera Budko, who immigrated from Russia three years ago, repeated the same message in Russian -- the official state language of the Kyrgyz republic -- and sang the Russian folk song "Kalinka," backed by the choir.

The program also included the Mongolian folk song "Abudan" which featured Tuvan throat singing from choir member Donald Serna-Grey. When his voice began to change, Serna-Grey took up throat-singing as a way to continue to contribute to the choir. He learned how to produce the strange multi-pitch sound from a National Public Radio Documentary on the famous throat-singer Ondar.

This is Serna-Grey's last year with the choir, and he says he will miss his friends. Not only do choir members make friends with one another, but they also make friends among other children's choirs from around the world. Two years ago, the choir hosted the Moran children's choir from Israel, and the two choirs will sing together in a concert on ICC's upcoming tour. They've also hosted groups from Hong Kong.

"It's the coolest thing that we can learn songs from across the ocean and then when we come together we sing songs that combine us and unite us," said choir member Meagan Mueller, a junior at Woods Cross High School. "It's really cool to get to know them in that way."

Choir member Kristi Thornton, a junior at Highland High, remembers hosting two members of the Moran choir during Passover.

"We had to go buy a whole new set of plates and pans because they can't have anything that's had leavened bread crumbs on it (during Passover.) We had to by all this kosher food, and it was really interesting to learn about what they could and couldn't eat."

The upcoming tour has a special significance to Sarah Mulhern, the choir's only Jewish member. "I want to see all the holy sites, and my mom's also going along as one of the adults on tour," she said. "It's really special because it's my homeland."

Mulhern attends the Kol Ami synagogue in Salt Lake City, studies Hebrew and recently had her Bat-Mitzvah. On the tour, she will introduce the songs in Hebrew.

The ICC also has an extensive classical repertoire. The solo numbers on the program include the infamously high "Queen of the Night" aria from Mozart's "The Magic Flute," sung by 13-year-old Will Perkins.

The ICC grew out of Sorensen's dissertation on multi-cultural music at the University of Utah. She interviewed several immigrants to find out what songs they thought children should sing from their country. She recorded these songs, transcribed them, and founded her own choir to sing them.

"I feel that folk music fulfills a need that the kids have for fun music without us having to do pop or rock n' roll," she said.