Children of the Austin Neighborhood Choir performing. Credit: Provided

CHICAGO — A citywide youth choir program that commits to enrolling children regardless of finances is enrolling singers for its new season.

Uniting Voices Chicago, formerly the Chicago Children’s Choir, teaches students ages 8-18 vocal techniques, choreography and the history of several singers, composers and global music culture.

The neighborhood-based choirs are after-school programs in 12 parts of the city.

Classes began Monday, but registration is still open for those wishing to participate throughout the year.

Students meet for rehearsals twice a week, and no previous experience is needed. Singers also will have opportunities to perform and tour throughout the year, and attend workshops from guest artists, according to the website.

The neighborhood choirs are located at:

  • North Park Covenant Church, 5250 N. Christiana Ave., in Albany Park
  • Kehrein Center for the Arts, 5628 W. Washington Blvd., in Austin
  • Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., in Beverly
  • St. Benedict the African Catholic Church, 340 W. 66th St., in Englewood
  • Catholic Charities at St. Gall, 5533 S. Sawyer Ave., in Gage Park
  • Off the Street Club, 25 N. Karlov Ave., in Garfield Park
  • McCormick YMCA, 1834 N. Lawndale Ave., in Humboldt Park
  • First Unitarian Church of Chicago, 5650 S. Woodlawn Ave., in Hyde Park
  • Holtschneider Performance Center, 2330 N. Halsted St., in Lincoln Park
  • Arturo Velasquez Institute, 2800 S. Western Ave., in Little Village
  • Indian Boundary Park, 2500 W. Lunt Ave., in Rogers Park
  • Bennett Day School, 955 W. Grand Ave., in West Town. 

Days and times for each location can be found here as well as information on how to sign up.

Pay begins at $15 to $25 depending on location, but program officials say pay can be adjusted based on family income to be as little as $5 per student.

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Emphasizing diversity throughout the city, the organization began in 1956 in Hyde Park, inspired by the Civil Rights Movement as a way of promoting equality through music. Students have performed at international venues, including in Italy, Egypt and France, and for Grammy winning musicians, such as Chance the Rapper and Kanye West.

The Austin Neighborhood Choir, where there are roughly 20 students, will collaborate this year with acclaimed Chicago poet Avery R. Young and have a stronger focus on various Latine influenced dances and performances, including entire performances in Spanish and even Basque throughout the West Side and the city, choir director Farlanda Buchannon said.

Additionally, Austin students will perform the Black History Month Concert Series to celebrate Black music and its global influence, Buchannon said.

The Austin choir performed throughout the neighborhood in 2021 as a way of making the area more welcoming to residents and tourists after it received a $120,000 city grant.

Buchannon said it was an honor to bring Black and Brown children into an inclusive space to learn about music.

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Buchannon was born and raised in Auburn, Alabama, and originally studied to perform music at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He later moving to Chicago after he was inspired by the work the choir was doing seeing one of their tours.

His group’s rendition of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” earned them Best Original Digital Content (Dance) in Chicago Reader’s Best of Chicago issue in 2022.

“To see so many kids regardless of race, gender, religion or economic factors that are often to barriers to our society on stage singing their heart out was the only pull I need to see that I need to be part of it,” Buchannon said. “We are bringing diverse youth to have one positive hub where they’re able to connect through deeper means through music.”

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