HURRICANE — In 2013, when Dr. Ilse-Renee Long visited a local 4-H club meeting to promote her brand-new children’s choir, she declared that the group was for any child who loved to sing.
Twelve-year-old 4-H member Alyssa Hofmann shouted, “I like to sing!” and thus began her seven-year journey as a founding member of The WV Treble Makers.
Her mom, Nancy Gendron Hofmann, a Hurricane resident and mother of two, recalls both the challenges and rewards that Alyssa has experienced as a Treble Maker.
“The first year was a little rocky because Alyssa had no idea how to match the sound of her voice to what Ilse was asking for,” Nancy admits, adding, “and one off-key voice in a choir can definitely be noticed by the audience.”
Fast forward to 2019, and Alyssa has performed with the choir in various locations in the eastern United States, including Charlotte, North Carolina; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Williamsburg, Virginia.
For Dr. Long, her choir performing in a variety of venues in and out of state was what she’d always envisioned for her group. A Hurricane High School graduate, Long received her B.A. in voice performance from the University of Charleston. She went on to get her masters in music and doctorate in musical arts from Boston University. With roots in Putnam County, Long returned to the community after earning her degrees, determined to start her own children’s choir.
“I founded the WV Treble Makers in 2013 and we are now in our seventh season,” Long said. “The group is composed of both a concert choir and an ensemble, and both are welcome to boys and girls.”
The concert choir is comprised of children from third through twelfth grade. It is a non-auditioned group that performs a wide variety of sacred, secular and world music. The ensemble is an auditioned group of middle and high school students who perform with the concert choir as well as on their own.
Although the ensemble’s repertoire is more demanding than the concert choir’s, Nancy Gendron Hofmann said she appreciates the way Long challenges all of her singers.
“Ilse doesn’t settle for ‘just OK.’ She sets the bar high — -then enthusiastically inspires the kids to want to reach for perfection,” Hofmann said. “I’ve attended almost every practice and performance over the past seven years. Each year I marvel at Ilse’s ability to take a different mix of young people and have them performance-ready, twice a year, in just a couple of months.”
Currently, the WV Treble Makers are preparing for their Christmas concert, which is open to the public at no charge at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15, at St. John UMC.
In addition to December and May concerts, the WV Treble Makers perform locally as well.
“Sometimes we perform at local senior living centers and nursing homes,” Long said. “We feel like that is our time to give back to our community.”
The most illustrious venue for the Treble Makers thus far was probably Carnegie Hall in New York City, when they performed with children’s choirs from all over the United States.
“Each spring Alyssa and the rest of the Treble Makers take a group trip and they’ve earned top accolades at Music in the Park competitions,” Hofmann adds.
But thrilling trips and competitive awards are only possible after weeks of hard work in the choir room. The “choir room” for the Treble Makers is the sanctuary of St. John’s United Methodist Church, where the concert choir meets every Wednesday from 4:30-6 p.m. (the choir also meets one Saturday per month with the Ensemble, which rehearses two Sundays a month).
“We start with warmups to work on vowels and vocal blending. Then we begin singing our repertoire,” Long explains. “I believe in teaching through the music, as opposed to worksheets and such. Although we take our music seriously, I also keep it fun and we laugh together a lot. Often I’ll ask the children musical questions and they’ll vie to answer them in order to earn stickers.”
Alyssa’s mom is impressed with what Long can accomplish while still having fun with the kids.
“Rehearsals are filled with silliness and laughter while the kids learn to sing a mix of new and familiar pieces, some of them in foreign languages and with multi-part harmonies.”
Long’s skills as a choral director and teacher come from years of experience in teaching voice, piano, and violin, both in schools and private settings. She is also in her first year as director of the Hurricane Civic Chorus, a 35-member male and female community chorus.
Her goals for the WV Treble Makers are to increase the size of the choir and to perform even more challenging music than they have yet attempted.
For Alyssa’s mom Nancy, the Treble Makers are akin to a sports team.
“The choristers share a common goal and work together to achieve a winning performance,” she relates. “Singing in a choir doesn’t require the physical prowess of field sports, yet it gives the children the same sense of participation and personal accomplishment.”
For Long, it all goes back to that 4-H club meeting where she invited children who loved to sing to come join her new chorus.
“Our mission statement says: ‘We celebrate a shared passion for song….and we have a lot of fun doing it.’ That passion inspires us.”