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Elementary students to belt out folk tunes at conference

Coming back to school after two weeks of free time is tense for some children. But 70 fourth- and fifth-graders at Schwarzkopf Elementary have something else to be anxious about.

The Schwarzkopf Freedom Singers, a choir directed by Margie Smith, have been chosen to perform at the Southern Music Educators Association conference Friday at the Tampa Convention Center.

Theirs is one of two elementary school choirs picked to perform at the convention, which is from Wednesday to Saturday and is expected to bring in about 7,000 music educators and students from around the southern United States.

Students audition for the Freedom Singers at the beginning of the school year. Smith, a music teacher and choir director at the school since it opened, does not just look for superb singers.

"They must be model students because they are representing the school," she said.

The choir practices 35 minutes once a week throughout the school year. But since being selected to perform at the convention, the choir has been practicing from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. every Monday.

"Because we practice after school, there is no way we could even conceive doing this without the help of the parents," Smith said.

Those parents were able to appreciate their children's efforts at a recent holiday concert at Gaither High School.

"The children were kind of nervous . . . because they were performing the songs they are doing at the conference for the first time in front of an audience," said music teacher LaGretta Snowden, the assistant director of the choir who accompanies them on the piano.

Music teachers provide backup on an upright bass and drums for Kentucky Jazz Jam and on a recorder for Two Native American Folk Songs. Other numbers include Art Thou Troubled,Can You Hear Me and Home on the Range. Smith picked this selection of Southern folk songs in keeping with this year's conference theme, "Sing America."

The Freedom Singers performance, "Folk Genre Plus Two," will take place at 3:30 p.m. Friday in front of 500 to 600 elementary school music teachers. While such a large crowd might be intimidating, Snowden said, "the kids are having a lot of fun."