Choir director teaches children to raise their voices

Rhonda Hackworth“Love at first sight.”

That’s how Mason Gross School Music professor and Rutgers Children’s Choir Artistic Director Rhonda Hackworth describes her first experience working with a children’s choir.

“It was a big group of kids from all sorts of backgrounds,” Hackworth says of her time as a graduate assistant at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Hackworth, better known as “Dr. H.” to her students in the choir, recalls that there was so much going on in the rehearsal involving families, kids, undergraduate helpers, graduate assistants and the conductor, that she thought, “ ‘This is how it should be!’ ”

Hackworth’s passion for working with children goes back to her days serving as both a church music director in Virginia and a professor at a local community college. She says spending time shuttling back and forth between producing children’s musicals at the church and teaching college students “hooked” her.  

“I love teaching college where we talk about teaching children,” Hackworth says. “But if I don’t actually get to teach children it seems something is missing. I just love the exuberance of kids during their elementary-through-early-adolescent years: they are delightful, pliable, eager and squirmy, and they really do their best.”

Hackworth became artistic director of the Rutgers Children’s Choir in 2008. Since then, the group—a treble-voice choir dedicated to providing artistically excellent, age-appropriate vocal training for third- through eighth-grade children with unchanged voices—has expanded to include two additional divisions: Little Knights, for children in kindergarten through second grade, and the Rutgers Chamber Singers, an auditioned ensemble of advanced singers in grades five through eight. In October 2011, Hackworth hosted children’s choirs from around the state here on campus at the inaugural Fall Children’s Choir Festival.

 “I’d love to see the day when someone who started in the Little Knights continues all the way through the [Rutgers Children’s Choir], applies to Rutgers,” she says, “and becomes a freshman in my class!”

Little Knights: Kindergarten-second grade, 5-5:35 p.m. Wednesdays. No audition required.Tuition $235 per year; Choristers: third-fifth grade, 5:45-7:05 p.m. Wednesdays. An audition is required to evaluate placement according to age, musical skills and vocal development; Chorale: fifth-eighth grade, 5:45-7:05 p.m. Wednesdays. An audition is required to evaluate placement according to age, musical skills and vocal development; Chamber Singers: fifth-eighth grade, 7:20-8 p.m. Wednesdays. An audition is required for membership in this ensemble. Chamber Singers is for singers in Chorale who are ready for more musical challenge. Members must commit to sing in both Chorale and Chamber Singers. Classes run throughout the school year on the Douglass Campus in New Brunswick. More information is available at 732-932-8618 or masongross.rutgers.edu/extension.