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ART BEAT: Collaboration between orchestra, local singers wins Grammy

The Gwinnett Young Singers are enjoying their 20th anniversary season, and how better to celebrate than by winning a Grammy Award?

This honor came to the group for their participation with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on a recording of composer John Adam's "The Transmigration of Souls," a piece written as a tribute to the victims of 9/11 in New York City.

Performing the "Transmigration of Souls" was a challenge for the choir. GYS's Artistic Director Lynn Urda said, "This is by far the most difficult piece that the Young Singers have ever done. It begins with the sounds of a normal day in New York City: footsteps, traffic sounds. Then you begin to hear people running and shouting. Sirens are in the background."

As the music continues in hushed tones, the chorus begins to sing words from many of the notes posted on the streets, posters describing their loved ones who are missing. Then the Gwinnett Young Singers begin with their part of the piece, singing "It was a beautiful day," and going on to describe what people might have thought as the horrible events unfolded.

"The music is very dissonant and often harsh and extremely chaotic, much like that day in New York," Urda said. "It ends with shimmering strings signifying the 'snowing' of paper shreds from the World Trade Center buildings."

The piece is so affecting, and it was so beautifully performed and recorded, that a Grammy was awarded.

The GYS have been performing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since 1996.

"The ASO was looking for a new children's choir for their Christmas concerts and had sent a representative to our spring concert to hear us," Urda said. "My knees were knocking together at the first rehearsal where Robert Shaw heard our choir!"

That began a long history, which is ongoing and award winning to this date.

Patrons can enjoy both the Gwinnett Young Singers and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and ASO Women's Chorus at 8 p.m. March 4 and 6 in Atlanta's Symphony Hall. They will not be performing their Grammy-winning piece, but rather the Mahler Third Symphony, described as one of Mahler's most unusual and stimulating works.

March continues to be a busy time for the GYS. They will present their 20th annual spring concert at 8 p.m. March 26 at Lilburn Christian Church, 314 Arcado Road in Lilburn. Then on March 27, the group will perform for a benefit for the Hudgens Center for the Arts, which is where the GYS rehearses.

Other news of note for the GYS includes the addition of a new choir. The GYS is the umbrella name for a number of different choirs that offer opportunities for children from second-graders through high school students. The Georgia Young Men's Ensemble was added recently under the direction of Philip Shoultz. In August 2009, a new choir evolved out of the desire of members from different GYS choirs who wanted to sing together. The Chamber Choir was then formed, a "mixed ensemble" consisting of singers from the Georgia Young Men's Ensemble and singers from the more advanced choirs. There are even some GYS alumni who are taking part in this new choir!

For more information about the Gwinnett Young Singers, visit www.gwinnettyoungsingers.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.