The Greater Manassas Children’s Choir Serenades and Soars

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By Emma Young

The voices of children are ringing throughout Manassas with the inaugural year of the Greater Manassas Children’s Choir (GMCC). A non-profit sponsored by the Manassas Chorale, the group has seen great success in its opening season with about 70 children participating from throughout Prince William divided into two age groups: grades 2-4 and grades 5-8.

That’s good news for our community as singing in choruses is associated with greater civic participation and teamwork, and children who sing in choruses were found to have higher grades and more advanced social skills compared to children who didn’t sing, according to the 2009 “Chorus Impact” study by Chorus America. There’s no need to tell that to Becky Verner, artistic director for the GMCC’s grades 5-8, and Susan Dommer, artistic director for the GMCC’s grades 2-4.

Photo by Bev's Photo Treasures

Photo by Bev’s Photo Treasures

Giving Back

“One of the things we wanted to do and encourage was giving back to the community,” Dommer said. Their first official performance was as entertainment during SERVE’s Empty Bowls benefit to help end hunger, for example. “The kids really enjoyed being part of that process. It was fun to see,” Dommer said. In addition portions of the group have performed at Arbor Terrace Sudley Manor and Novant Health Caton Merchant House, both assisted living facilities in Manassas. “The residents were extremely appreciative. They had a great time hearing the kids,” said Verner. “The children relaxed and really enjoyed singing. At the end, I said they could go and greet the residents, and they took off like football players going through the chairs. They work hard in rehearsal, so they can be prepared for the performances. Becky and I both feel strongly the GMCC has important community ties and the more exposure in the community, the better it is for the kids,” Dommer said.


Getting the group started took effort and commitment. “The Manassas Chorale had the establishment of a regional children’s choir in our five-year plan. We felt there was really a need for this. The Manassas Chorale had kids who were part of the honor choir, and we had feedback from parents and teachers that it was thrilling to them to sing with a bigger group of kids who were really good. The need was there, the potential was there, and it was the right time to start the group,” Verner said.

The support needed to start the group included not only members of the Manassas Chorale but teachers, parents, volunteers, politicians, churches and sponsors. “We had a strong steering committee that did so much over the summer [in 2015]. If it hadn’t been for the committee, we couldn’t have done as well as we did,” said Verner. Volunteers designed and distributed brochures, posters and postcards to schools, home-school groups, and churches, to spread the word about the newly formed group and encourage children to join. Volunteers continue to set up chairs, answer questions, send out mailings, put music in folders, make certain performance shirts fit, and “anything that needs doing. They’ve just been wonderful to have. It’s been people proactively saying, ‘I want to help you,’” said Verner.


That help comes in the form of patrons and sponsors as well. There is a cost of $225/year (September – May) or $25/month. The fees cover everything from music to accompanists. “We tried to keep the fee very reasonable,” Verner said. “We did a lot of checking around as it does cost to order music, et cetera,” said Dommer, “and if you look at the cost of so many other organizations, it’s really reasonable.” The group’s generous benefactors help ensure that all who want to sing, do. “We have scholarships for children whose parents cannot afford the tuition,” explained Verner. “We help the family with funds, or we may pay for the choir shirt. We ask them to donate a small amount if they can,” Dommer said. “We have wonderful patron support,” said Verner. “The community wants to do something that benefits children. Everything from $25 to $500. That’s continuing to come in,” she said.

A Learning Opportunity

“It’s a variety of kids. Some have never really sung before, some haven’t been in active choirs, and some are experienced in school or church choirs or taking private lessons,” Dommer said. The process begins with voice checks. “It’s not an audition. They sing a little song for us, and we check the range for the highest and lowest notes to get an idea of range vocally,” she said.

“The kids are there because they enjoy singing, and they want to be pushed a little bit,” said Dommer. That means training, but in fun ways. “I’m enjoying their energy and figuring out ways to keep them learning and happy and excited. We play games like The Forbidden Phrase, which is an ear-training game or teach them how to do scales with hand signs. We’re giving them sight-reading training and exercises to start building them as musicians. It’s fun to see their progress. They have exceeded expectations,” she said.

Making an Impact

“It has been a wonderfully positive experience. We have some enthusiastic kids. I enjoy the challenge; this can make a difference in each child’s life,” Verner said.

The choir members themselves tell the meaning it has. Reyna Corretjer of Manassas is in the younger group and said, “I look forward to rehearsal every week. We sing so many fun songs and I have learned a lot of new things. I also like that I get to meet new people instead of just the kids from my school.”

Her mother, Melissa Shultz, has seen the impact the choir has had. “I know that she is having a great time with GMCC. Being in this choir has been an amazing experience for her. Reyna is a very shy and quiet little girl. Every week I see her coming out of her comfort zone a little bit and becoming more confident. She has even decided that she wants to audition for solos, which is a huge step for her. I am so proud of her and can’t thank Ms. Dommer enough for all the encouragement she gives Reyna,” she said.

Bridget Rice of Manassas, a member of the older group in GMCC, is pleased to be a member. “I have enjoyed being in this choir,” she said. “I have had a great journey so far. The music is fun, and I come home singing and happy every Thursday. I plan on being a part of this choir for some time,” Rice said.

Rhonda Craighead’s daughter, Gabby, is in the older chorale as well. “Gabby enjoys everything about the Greater Manassas Children’s Chorale. As she has said, ‘everyone is so much fun; we laugh and we sing. I’ve made some new friends and get to spend time with a few of my old friends,’” wrote Craighead in an online post.

The Future

The next performance of the GMCC is on Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m. at the Manassas Church of the Brethren, where the group normally rehearses Thursday nights, at 10047 Nokesville Road in Manassas. The performance is free. It will showcase a variety of music and include some choreography.

“The Manassas Chorale has seen this as the dream of seven years that has now come true. We’re making sure there is a next generation of really good singers. We’re making sure they get a good background and that they will continue,” Verner said.

Said Dommer,“We started our first year, and we’re well under way. It’s going to be fun to watch the kids grow and progress as we grow. It’s going to be fun watching them continue to sing.”

Emma Young ( is a freelance writer and mother living in Montclair. Additional reporting by David Gignilliat. 


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