Crescendo Youth Choir, children sing together, diminutive first-graders standing beside towering eighth graders, joining voices in classic songs from many traditions. Every Monday afternoon, they practice in the Edgartown School’s music room. Laura Walton, called “Miss Walton” by her students, leads the group with unflappable cheer and patience. She guides them through the music, coaxing them to focus and bringing them together. Walton sits at the piano, making eye contact with the students, and getting them moving in an organized way when they get fidgety, bringing their energy back to the music in front of them.
The choir is open to kids from across the Island, and no audition is required. There’s also a special group for middle school-aged kids, Forte Singers, which provides a space for older students to begin studying more complex choral music.Mentorships blossom between the kids, Walton says. “In the group, I have two Luises — the older one sits next to the younger one — the older ones help the younger ones.” The kids learn more than just singing. “Music at this age is not about being a perfect singer,” Walton says. “They’re gaining a community by being here, and it fosters collaborative skills. Research shows that children who are involved with music from a young age have stronger oral and linguistic skills.” For children who are learning English, music supports their second language acquisition. “We sing in multiple languages. We always try to sing something in Portuguese, because for many of my students that’s their first language. These students just glow when they get to teach the pronunciation of a word to their peers.”
Walton earned a bachelor degree in music education from the Syracuse University Setnor School of Music. While in Syracuse, she interned with the Syracuse Children’s Chorus, which gave her the opportunity to develop her skills as a conductor, and to begin to learn about running a children’s chorus. In 2017, Walton came to the Vineyard to teach music at the Edgartown School, and was the artistic director of Martha’s Vineyard Children’s Chorus until this past October. Leaving that group was a difficult decision for her, and she missed it. She reached out to her mentor from college, Barbara Tagg, who literally wrote the book on how to organize children’s choirs (Before the Singing: Structuring Children’s Choirs for Success, Oxford University Press, April 2013). With her former professor’s advice, Walton has begun to build her own organization.
“When I take hold of something, I like to grow it,” Walton says. That’s why she chose the name: in musical notation, a crescendo indicates a gradual increase in volume. The program is for kids who love to sing, who love music, and have chosen to be there, because in school the classroom includes many kids who don’t have a particular interest in music. “I envision this being much more than just a children’s choir,” she says. Her plans for Crescendo Performing Arts include a summer camp, and, eventually, affordable private music lessons. The summer camp will take place this July at the Edgartown School, and will include musical exploration and collaborative creation in addition to choral singing for elementary and middle school students. There will also be a short afternoon Mini Maestros class for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers with their caregivers.
Walton is working towards establishing Crescendo as a registered nonprofit, to ensure that the group remains accessible to all Island students. The process will require support, so she is looking for like-minded, dedicated music lovers to serve on the organization’s board of directors, and will need money and/or pro bono legal work to set up the nonprofit entity. So far, all of the funds from tuition have gone back into supporting the choir, in the form of rent for their rehearsal space, concert venue rent, and other expenses. Griffin McMahon is the chorus’s accompanist. “He is incredible,” Walton says. He makes a recording of the music at the beginning of the term and she adds the singing parts so that kids can practice at home. “He comes in for the last couple of rehearsals before the concert, and the kids really look forward to seeing him.”
The choir is still open to new students, and its concert will take place at the end of the school year. For more information, visit laurawaltonmusic.com/.